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Dem’s sheriff candidate may not play by party rules

Bill Benjamin

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Former IMPD Deputy Chief Bill Benjamin knows he has an uphill struggle in his attempt to win the Marion County Democratic Party’s nomination to be the next sheriff.

His opponent, former U.S. Marshal Kerry Forestal, serves as a lieutenant colonel and confidant to current Sheriff John Layton and has locked up the endorsement of his boss and several top sheriff’s commanders and recently made an appearance with Mayor Joe Hogsett.

During a forum in front of the Indiana Democrat African American Caucus, Benjamin was asked whether he will participate in candidate slating in February and continue on in the May 2018 primary whether he’s the party’s choice to run for sheriff or not.

“I know there’s a lot of slickery going on,” Benjamin told a diverse audience of more than 100 party faithful at the Julia A. Carson Government Center. “I’m not a politician. I’m a lawman.”

Benjamin gave no indication he would participate in or follow the results of the slating convention while Forestal said he was committed to the party process.

Both candidates fielded questions from a moderator and audience members.

Forestal embraced the technology of body cameras to assure police accountability and the preservation of evidence and said ten of his sex offender compliance deputies currently have the devices.

MCSO, under Layton, has struggled with jail overcrowding brought on by the return of some low level offenders from state prisons to serve their sentences locally.

Forestal called for the imprisonment of offenders awaiting trial in state facilities to ease jail overcrowding.

In addressing the issue of youth crime, Benjamin touted his work with Police Athletic League clubs while employed by IPD and IMPD as Forestal referred to a sheriff’s youth camp near Cloverdale that has been a project endorsed by Layton.

Benjamin proposed what he called a “pre-arrest tool box” that would provide deputies with  social service and substance abuse referral information for encounters with offenders whose alleged crimes may not warrant incarceration.

When asked about incidents including allegations about overstepping his authority while detaining an Indiana State Police trooper and an argumentative teenager at Arlington High School, Benjamin said he was cleared of any charges or departmental sanctions in both cases and successfully arrested and prosecuted 65 killers while assigned to IPD and IMPD’s homicide branches.

“You live in a violent city,” Benjamin told the assembled democrats.

Forestal heads up Layton’s criminal investigations branch and has watched his boss operate a jail that is antiquated, often at capacity, targeted by lawsuits and adopting new policies to combat offender suicides.

The candidate, whose supporters applauded his low key responses in contrast to Benjamin’s more charismatic performance, called for recidivism outplacement services at a proposed community justice center to provide housing and job referrals to offenders returning to Marion County after parole from the Department of Correction.

Benjamin highlighted his recent assignment within the jail as a liaison between inmates and the sheriffs’ staff and the difficulties he faced in convincing deputies and their supervisors to address offender complaints about medical issues, mental health medications, racism, infestation, food service and clothing.

Perhaps speaking to the deputies wearing his campaign shirts in the room, Forestal said one of his priorities if elected would be to give sheriffs’ uniformed personnel raises and equal pay in the ranks.

Forestal also took a shot at the U.S. Department of Justice which was recently represented in Indianapolis during a visit by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“We cannot have a divided community,” said Forestal who criticized President Donald Trump’s drive to deport illegal aliens as targeting, “the easiest of the easiest to bump up his numbers.”

Benjamin blasted the arrests of drivers on misdemeanor traffic warrants that could lead to incarceration.

Forestal said he was encouraged by a pair of annual Operation Safe Surrender campaigns which invited offenders with open warrants to visit a local church to meet with authorities and set new court dates without fear of arrest and promised to continue such programs in the future.

Regarding the recent decision of a special prosecutor to not file criminal charges against two IMPD officers who shot and killed an unarmed man named Aaron Bailey after he fled and crashed his car, Forestal called the incident “a tragedy” and said he would favor a law enforcement curriculum to be taught at an Indianapolis high school to familiarize both students and deputies about what to expect during a traffic stop.

Forestal said he favored IMPD Chief Bryan Roach’s decision to recommend dismissal of the two officers from the force.

Benjamin added, “I got a problem with it all,” and, “these officers need to go,” as he recounted the dead man’s actions and the fatal shots fired by patrolmen into Bailey’s back.

The veteran commander, currently a reserve with the Lawrence Police Department, expressed doubts about Implicit Bias Training classes that were presented to IMPD commanders earlier this week and will soon be taught to all officers.

Benjamin said he favored what he called “Explicit Bias Training” that would ask, “what did you do when you saw what you saw?”

Forestal wrapped up the appearance by asking Benjamin for his support after next spring’s primary.

Benjamin has indicated he would welcome Forestal’s backing if he succeeds in winning the party’s endorsement.