CROWN POINT — Jury selection begins Tuesday in a domestic violence trial that could close out the political career of Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington.
The 45-year-old politician is pleading not guilty to five criminal counts alleging he assaulted his 24-year-old cousin, Kamaria Buckley, Dec. 5, 2017, during a dispute at his Merrillville home.
Washington didn't run for re-election this year, opting instead to challenge Lake County Commissioner Kyle Allen Sr. He lost in the spring primary and is scheduled to leave office Dec. 31.
But a conviction on any one of the felonies he faces would mean an earlier exit. State law would require his immediate removal and bar future runs for public office, absent a governor's pardon.
Washington has argued since his arrest more than 11 months ago he did nothing wrong and the charges were politically motivated to thwart his run for county commissioner and were in retaliation for his outspoken views on Facebook and radio about local politics.
Washington's fiscal authority over local court officials, as a member of the County Council, prompted the appointment of a special prosecutor and a special judge to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
Stanley M. Levco, of Evansville, will handle the prosecution of Washington. Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Thode will preside over the trial, which is taking place in Lake Criminal Court in Crown Point. Defense attorney Darnail Lyles represents Washington.
The case is expected to revolve around the testimony of Buckley, who moved into Washington's home last year after he helped her relocate following family problems in California and find a job as a dispatcher for the Lake County E-911 public safety network.
Buckley, who testified about the case last May, said Washington became angry with her on the telephone Dec. 5 when she interrupted their conversation to say hello to someone else.
She said he confronted her when she arrived at his home later, grabbed her cellphone from her hands, slammed her down, choked her and threatened her with a mallet before walking away.
A neighbor testified Buckley appeared frightened. Geneva Wesley, a cousin to both Washington and Buckley, testified Buckley didn't appear injured and said nothing to her about Washington placing hands on her.
The Lake County prosecutor initially filed eight felony and misdemeanor counts against Washington in 2017. Last month, Levco dismissed three of them for what he said were strategic reasons that he wouldn't comment on further.
Washington still faces two felony intimidation counts, one felony criminal confinement count, a misdemeanor count of battery and a misdemeanor count of interference with reporting a crime.