EAST CHICAGO | An East Chicago City Council member was charged Wednesday with killing a man once linked to a street gang and accused in a separate federal case of intent to distribute marijuana.
Robert "Coop" Battle, 42, who represents East Chicago's 3rd District, is running unopposed in the Nov. 3 election.
The marijuana charges stem in part from Battle's arrest Sept. 23 after police found 73.22 grams of marijuana and $100,700 in cash wrapped in rubber bands during a traffic stop on Interstate 94 near Chesterton, according to the federal complaint. It's not the first time Battle has faced marijuana charges, court records show.
Battle had not been formally charged in connection with the Sept. 23 traffic stop as of Monday — the same day he is alleged to have shot Reimundo "Rey" Camarillo Jr., 31, of East Chicago, once in the back.
Police found Camarillo facedown with blood coming from his nose about 8 a.m. in an alley behind a home at 4226 Euclid Ave., according to Lake Criminal Court records. Battle lives at 4228 Euclid Ave., according to an arrest report.
Residents reported hearing men arguing loudly, and the city's ShotSpotter technology indicated three gunshots in the area, a probable cause affidavit says. Camarillo was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police found blood on door handles at 4228 Euclid Ave., which had surveillance cameras on the exterior, and executed a search warrant there. Police Chief Mark Becker said Wednesday investigators were still following up on leads related to items recovered from the home, but he declined to say specifically what was found.
When asked if there is a link between Camarillo's homicide and the federal marijuana case, Becker said he couldn't comment.
Camarillo was at one time an alleged member of the Two Six street gang, according to Lake County court records. He was sentenced in 2005 to eight years in prison after he admitted to wounding a woman when he fired an AK-47 rifle at a home in the 3800 block of Pulaski Street in East Chicago.
Years after he was sentenced, Camarillo asked a judge to allow him to enter a transition program for inmates. He wrote in a letter that the birth of his child had changed his outlook on life.
Battle arrested hours after homicide
Hours after Camarillo's homicide, authorities met with Battle's attorney, Walter Alvarez, who told police Battle claimed to have shot Camarillo in self-defense, the affidavit says.
The meeting at Alvarez's Crown Point office included Alvarez, two East Chicago detectives, an Indiana State Police officer, a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent and an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Alvarez said Battle and Camarillo were talking inside Battle's house at 4228 Euclid and the conversation moved outside into the alley, according to the affidavit. Camarillo allegedly started patting Battle down at one point.
Alvarez said Camarillo then pulled a knife on Battle, so Battle shot Camarillo, court records state.
A conference room door was then opened, and authorities could see Battle sitting in the lobby of Alvarez's law office. The conversation continued as authorities asked questions of Alvarez, who then talked with Battle as authorities listened.
Battle said there was no struggle before the shooting, and he claimed he threw his .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun somewhere in his house. Battle said he didn't know where to find the knife Camarillo purportedly had, but that it might be in the alley, the affidavit says.
Authorities did not find a knife at the crime scene, nor did they find the .40-caliber handgun inside Battle's house, court records state.
Officers also didn't find shell casings, bullet fragments or bullets at the scene. There was no record of Battle making a 911 call to report the shooting.
Battle was taken into custody after the meeting Monday pending further discussions with the Lake County prosecutor's office, police said.
Alvarez declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said he doesn't anticipate anyone else will be charged in the homicide.
Feds eyed councilman for months
The federal indictment outlines how federal officials had been investigating Battle since April.
After receiving authorization to track his phone, investigators learned Battle was traveling to a home in Flint, Mich., where a known cocaine dealer lives, according to court records.
On Sept. 18, investigators tracked one of his trips to Michigan, but they were unable to arrest him. On Sept. 23, they learned through the phone's tracking that he had traveled to Michigan and was headed back to Northwest Indiana.
When an Indiana State Police trooper stopped Battle on I-94, police found 73.22 grams of suspected marijuana in a Crown Royal box in the vehicle's trunk, according to the indictment. Police also found $100,700 in cash wrapped in rubber bands inside a backpack.
After Battle's arrest, federal agents searched the Michigan home Battle had visited and found 9 ounces of cocaine, $7,000 in cash, three stolen guns and an empty kilogram wrapper, according to the indictment. The homeowner, Eddie Walters, was arrested and remains in custody.
Information about Battle's upcoming court hearings in state and federal courts was not immediately available Wednesday.
Several arrests in Battle's history
Battle has pleaded guilty to several marijuana-related charges in the past and dodged convictions by entering a pretrial diversion program, court records show.
In 2000, Battle was arrested in Highland and charged with possession of marijuana. The charges associated with the arrest were dismissed in 2003 after he entered a pretrial diversion program, according to court records.
On Feb. 6, 2009, Battle was arrested after an East Chicago officer stopped him on Riley Road for tinted windows. The officer smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from the car and later found 9.5 grams of marijuana, according to an affidavit.
Battle entered a pretrial diversion program in April 2009. The Lake County prosecutor's office agreed to withhold prosecution for 80 days on the Class A misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana, hash oil or hashish, according to court records. The case was dismissed Oct. 9, 2009.
On Dec. 8, 2012, Hammond police arrested Battle on a misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge after stopping the car he was driving for an expired license plate. An officer found 11 grams of suspected marijuana in the car and recovered a gun, which Battle was legally carrying, court records show.
Battle pleaded guilty and again completed a pretrial diversion program. The gun, a P-30 V1 .40-caliber S&W, was returned to Battle in 2013 after he filed a purchase receipt with the court.
Battle admitted to using his H&K .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun to shoot Camarillo, according to court records. Gun maker Heckler & Koch makes a P30 .40-caliber S&W, according to its website.
Official has various addresses
Battle was first elected to the City Council in 2011. He won the primary election this year by 52 votes.
He previously described himself as a full-time councilman who was not afraid to fight for causes.
Battle has been listed as living at several different addresses. He reportedly doesn't live at the East Chicago address on Larkspur Avenue that is listed for him in the city's records. The federal indictment indicates he had homes in East Chicago and Merrillville.
A man in an East Chicago Housing Authority vehicle said Tuesday that a family member of Battle lived at the Larkspur Avenue address at one time, but there was a new tenant living there now.
The Lake County charge lists Battle as living at 4228 Euclid Ave., but he is listed in county election records as living at 437 Vernon Ave., Apt. 2.
East Chicago City Council members made $42,356 a year in 2014, more than five times the average salary of council members of 75 community governments, according to the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.
That amount includes an approximate $25,000 stipend per year in discretionary money, which council members can spread around their respective districts for charitable or promotional contributions, spend on office supplies or use as personal income.
Battle told The Times in August for a story about how much money public officials earn in Lake County that there is no requirement for them to keep records of how they spend their stipend. Battle said at the time he does not mingle his stipend money with his campaign money.
East Chicago council members also are eligible to receive insurance and pension benefits which, when added to Medicare and Social Security contributions, total more than $12,000.
Fifth District Councilman Rosendo Cuevas said Tuesday that the situation is unfortunate.
"It's just a sad situation all the way around, especially for the family of the deceased."