Charged with Murder. Elected from Jail.
Some elected officials are sworn in at City Hall. Others are sworn in outside the White House. Chicago-area councilman Robert Battle was re-inaugurated from jail, where he is awaiting trial for drug and murder charges last Tuesday.
As reelection bids go, Battle’s was easy. He ran uncontested for his council seat in East Chicago, Indiana. He did not vote, although he could have requested an absentee ballot be sent to his jail cell. But beating the charges against him might prove to be harder than getting a ballot.
Federal agents began investigating Battle on suspicion of drug trafficking in April, the Chicago Tribune reports. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration obtained a phone tap warrant, allowing them to trace Battle’s cellphone via GPS. During a five-day search for Battle, DEA agents recorded the elected official making multiple trips to and from a Flint, Michigan, address where a cocaine dealer was believed to live. A Sept. 23 traffic stop revealed 73.22 grams of marijuana and $100,700 cash in Battle’s car, while a search of the Flint home found three stolen guns and nine ounces of cocaine.
Battle was released on bond shortly after and was allowed to continue his city council reelection bid. Less than two weeks later, he was arrested again, this time for allegedly shooting and killing 31-year-old Reimundo Camarillo Jr. in the back in an alleyway behind Battle’s apartment.
Battle’s attorney John Cantrell says Camarillo instigated the attack, and that Battle only shot after Camarillo pulled a knife on him. Police say they did not find a knife on the scene.
Since his Oct. 14 arrest on murder charges, Battle has remained behind bars in the Porter County Jail. But confinement did little to hurt his reelection chances.
East Chicago, Indiana, is across the border from Chicago, Illinois, where much of the local television news is focused. Many East Chicago issues, including Battle’s arrest, receive limited airtime, local experts say.
“One [reason] is a lot of people just do not pay attention to the news. They don’t even know he’s in jail,” Marie Eisenstein, an associate professor of political science at Indiana University Northwest, told the Tribune.
The unopposed Battle won 308 votes, and was sworn into office from jail last week. Simultaneously behind bars and in office, Battle is in a unique position of power. He cannot fulfill his duties as an elected official, yet he cannot be prematurely removed from office until he is proven guilty or he resigns, which he doesn’t plan to do.
Cantrell says he will keep Battle updated on city council business while he awaits trial.
“He is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty,” Cantrell told NWI.com in response to calls for Battle to resign. “If he is acquitted, he’ll keep his job.”
The murder and drug trafficking charges against Battle have been moved to federal court. While he awaits trial, he will continue to earn his annual salary of $42,356 from his cell.