PAXTON — Ford County Coroner Doug Wallace is being challenged in Tuesday's Republican primary election by a former chief deputy for the Ford County sheriff's office who resigned amid accusations that he beat a burglary suspect.
Yet Wallace has insisted on running an entirely positive campaign, focusing on his own experience and qualifications without raising an issue about the past of his opponent, Kip Rutledge.
"Qualifications and experience makes a big difference in this job, I think," said Wallace, who has been coroner for 10 years and has also served as a firefighter and emergency medical technician in the Melvin area, where he lives. "I know I had to learn a lot when I first became coroner."
Rutledge, 44, of Elliott, is seeking his first elected office. He has declined to answer questions about his criminal past.
Meanwhile, Wallace said he has nothing to hide about his own past.
"If you're running for public office, you've got to be upfront about what your qualifications are and how you can do the job. I don't have anything to hide about it," Wallace said.
In 1999, when Rutledge was the chief deputy of the sheriff's offce, he and then-Sheriff Jeff Bond were both charged with official misconduct for their roles in an incident in 1998 when both were employed as Gibson City police officers. According to testimony at Bond's trial, Rutledge beat a burglary suspect in an attempt to get a description of the vehicle used in a burglary at the Moose Lodge in Gibson City.
Although Rutledge refuted the allegations, in late 1999 he ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge as part of a plea deal. The plea bargain was reached after prosecutors learned of a second incident in which Rutledge allegedly hit a prisoner at the Gibson City Police Department, and a judge ruled the case could be mentioned at Rutledge's trial.
Rutledge was later sentenced to two years of court supervision and also had to resign as chief deputy. He also had to testify against Bond, who was eventually sentenced to probation after he was convicted of official misconduct and compelling a confession by force or threat.
Rutledge worked for 10 years in local law enforcement, he said in an interview last December. For the past nine years, Rutledge said, he has worked as a field technician for the Illinois Department of Transportation office in Watseka. He serves as a volunteer football coach for Gibson City's youth football team and is married with two children.
Wallace, 58, of rural Melvin, has been coroner since 2001, while previously serving as deputy coroner for four years and chief deputy coroner for one year. He said his experience and his ability to work with families in times of tragedy make him qualified.
Wallace also works as a farmer at his 560-acre corn and soybean farm in Wall Township — a job that gives him the freedom to be available to respond to calls as coroner any time of the day or night, he said. Wallace said he was previously employed as a Ford County correctional officer for a year and a half.
Wallace said he has also been a volunteer firefighter for the Roberts-Melvin Fire Protection District since 1987, including time serving as assistant fire chief. Wallace also worked as an emergency medical technician for eight years for the Buckley Ambulance Service.
Wallace's other elected experience includes serving as a Wall Township trustee and road commissioner and as a drainage commissioner for the Lyman/Wall Township Drainage District #1. Wallace also served for 15 years on the Ford County Fair's board of directors.
He and his wife, Cindy, have been married 40 years and have four daughters and five grandchildren.