CROWN POINT, Ind. — The Lake County Sheriff’s Department police chief said Friday that he’ll work toward a smooth transition of power following the corruption conviction and ouster of his former boss, Sheriff John Buncich.
With Buncich’s removal, Police Chief Dennis Matthew Eaton, the second in command at the sheriff’s department, now oversees the county police, jail and animal shelter in Indiana’s second most-populous county, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.
“The Lake County Sheriff’s Department is working closely with the Lake County Board of Commissioners and the Lake County Council to ensure a smooth transition to new leadership,” the department said in a statement.
Within the next thirty days, the Lake County Democratic Central Committee will be tasked with appointing a pro tem sheriff, the statement said. Among those who have publicly expressed interest in running for sheriff are Lake County Clerk Mike A. Brown and former Sheriff Roy Dominguez.
Eaton took over the operation of the department Thursday morning after a U.S. District Court jury found Buncich, a Democrat, guilty on bribery and wire fraud charges. State law mandates the immediate removal of an elected official after a felony conviction.
Buncich chose Eaton on May 31 to become his second in command, replacing Timothy Downs, who resigned last December after pleading guilty to federal charges alleging he collected towing company kickbacks under Buncich’s orders.
Eaton had served as commander of the Sheriff’s Department’s Criminal Investigations Division from 2013 until his appointment as police chief.
Buncich is free on bond until his sentencing Dec. 6. A federal grand jury indicted him, Downs and William “Willie” Szarmach, operator of CSA Towing of Lake Station, last November. Szarmach has pleaded guilty to paying bribes.
Defense attorney Bryan Truitt said Thursday that defense attorneys will “do everything we can to set aside this verdict.” He said Buncich “holds his head up high knowing the truth is that he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Buncich was elected to his fourth term as sheriff in 2015.
Information from: The Times, http://www.nwitimes.com