State lawmaker accused of defamation, slander

A former candidate for Marion County Sheriff is accusing a state lawmaker of defamation and slander for comments the legislator made in a committee hearing earlier this year.

Bill Benjamin, a Democrat who lost in the primary for sheriff last year against Kerry Forestal, filed the tort complaint against the state of Indiana and state Rep. Dan Forestal on Sept. 11.

Dan Forestal is the nephew of Kerry Forestal, who is now Marion County Sheriff.

The complaint is related to remarks Dan Forestal made during the House Elections and Apportionment Committee hearing on Feb. 14 when lawmakers were discussing a bill that would have made changes to the way local primaries are conducted.

During the hearing, Forestal said he “deeply disagrees with” the bill and questioned the author of it, Democratic state Rep. John Bartlett, about the purpose of the legislation and whether it was connected to Benjamin’s campaign for sheriff.

Forestal went on to say Benjamin was “being indicted federally under charges when Joe Hogsett was U.S. attorney.”

“Are you familiar with the fact that Bill Benjamin asked Joe Hogsett for his support and Joe Hogsett said, “No, because I know the facts of your case.’”

Committee chairman Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, cut Forestal off after that.

“Rep. Forestal, I appreciate the line of your questioning up to this point but I think you’re starting to get a little too far off the subject matter,” Wesco said.

In the complaint, Benjamin, who served 27 years with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and four years with the sheriff’s department, says he has never been under any type of indictment or charged with any crime, and that he’s had an “extraordinary career in law enforcement.”

“Rep. Forestal stated falsehoods to tarnish and besmirch Bill Benjamin’s reputation within the community in [an] attempt to permanently vanquish a perceived political opponent of his family,” the complaint says.

The complaint also says Benjamin has lost job opportunities and has been “humiliated” as a result of Forestal’s comments.

Forestal is facing criminal charges of impersonating a public servant, driving while intoxicated and resisting law enforcement after being arrested in August.

Forestal did not return a phone call from IBJ for this story.

Lewis and Wilkins LLP attorney Carl Brizzi, who is representing Benjamin, said “Mr. Forestal has an obvious problem with truth telling.”

Tort claims are investigated by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. A spokesperson for Attorney General Curtis Hill did not respond to IBJ about the status of the complaint.

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