GARY — Despite objections from legal counsel, the City Council voted to bar ex-Lake County councilman Jamal Washington from meetings after allegations he battered political ally and Gary Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade in her home last week.
“Things could have went bad, and I’m thankful to God things did not go that way,” Gary Council President Ronald Brewer said at Tuesday's meeting at the Genesis Center downtown.
Brewer made a motion banning Washington from City Council and committee meetings.
Washington remains in police custody pending a police investigation and as Porter County probation officials move to revoke his probation at the request of a special prosecutor in his most recent conviction, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said.
Six members voted yes, while two — Councilman at-large Herbert Smith and Councilwoman Linda Barnes-Caldwell, D-5th — abstained amid legality concerns. Attorney Rinzer Williams suggested they table the motion for a private discussion due to possible litigation.
“I would rather move on the motion that’s on the floor and let everyone’s vote fall where they fall," Brewer said.
After the meeting, Williams told The Times that Sparks-Wade and Brewer clarified later that a restraining order has been filed against Washington, and that the council’s vote was merely a recognition of Sparks-Wade’s order.
“From what I now understand, they will bring that matter back up at the next meeting and clarify the intent, that he’s not being barred because the council members don’t like what he did, but that they were simply voting to recognize the order,” Williams said.
For years, Sparks-Wade has been unwavering in her support for Washington through his domestic violence convictions, going so far as to favorably testify on his behalf late last year when he faced a jury trial for battering a 24-year-old female cousin. She described Washington as her live-in boyfriend when police responded to her home to check on her welfare.
On Tuesday night, however, she received applause from many in the audience Tuesday night as she spoke about her experience as a domestic abuse survivor and asked people to refrain from victim blaming.
“My batterer is in jail with five felony counts and a misdemeanor, and he won’t be getting out if it's left up to me,” Sparks-Wade said.
African-American women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, and most instances of abuse are never reported, she said.
“It’s an embarrassment. It is. It’s embarrassing. Which is why it's the No. 1 reason why women don’t report. Who would have thought, as big as my mouth is, in speaking truth to power all the time, that I would be a victim? I was a victim. Now I am a survivor,” she said.
Sparks-Wade encouraged victims to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson thanked Sparks-Wade for her candor and transparency in speaking about the alleged abuse.
“Not just on the day of but through her journey as a victim. We know there is a power issue with abusers, and I appreciate that she has reclaimed her power by publicly talking about it," she said.
Washington, 45, was formally charged Friday with five felony counts related to criminal confinement, domestic battery and intimidation in an incident involving Sparks-Wade, who is running for Gary mayor.
Sparks-Wade told police Jan. 30 that Washington threatened to kill her, and in a fit of rage, battered and held her against her will in her home, according to court records.
He is accused of holding her against her will in her home for nearly 16 hours until shortly before 8 a.m. last Wednesday, when she escaped their bedroom and texted her friend, a Lake County sheriff's officer, for help, according to court records.
The fight reportedly broke out over Sparks-Wade's choice for a campaign manager. However, the abuse had begun weeks earlier, she said.
Sparks-Wade said she didn’t report him to authorities then, but on Dec. 13, he allegedly smacked her face with an open hand and threatened to stab her in the neck, the affidavit states.
Five days later, Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Thode sentenced Washington in connection with his conviction for battering a female cousin to 180 days at the Lake County Jail, but suspended all but time already served to be spent on unsupervised probation.
A hearing is not yet scheduled to review Washington's probation revocation. If the hearing is not set before Washington’s 15-day hold in jail expires, Carter said Lake County prosecutors will move to increase Washington’s bond.