The candidates vying for Kane County coroner are disputing each other's qualifications for the office.
Democrat Tao Martinez has questioned the background of Republican Rob Russell, a sergeant with the DuPage County Sheriff's Department, saying Russell was just certified as a "lead homicide investigator" in September.
Russell has fired back, noting that Martinez, who owns a North Aurora firm that cleans and decontaminates death scenes, is misrepresenting his experience and is more a "janitor" than an investigator.
On Tuesday, voters will elect the county's first new coroner since 2000. Former Kane County Coroner Chuck West died July 4.
Martinez, 31, of North Aurora, argues Russell is no more than a jail guard who only recently obtained a state homicide certification.
"He's a sergeant in corrections. He's not a sergeant in investigations," Martinez said.
Russell, 41, of South Elgin, said he has served in three divisions at the sheriff's office: corrections, court security and patrol.
He said that while in the patrol division, he assisted in more than 60 death or homicide investigations in various roles. Russell said he took a sergeant's promotion in the corrections division because he was higher on the promotion list compared to patrol.
Russell also framed the issue for his supporters, writing on his campaign's Facebook page: "Cop or janitor -- that is your choice for coroner."
"You look at what (Martinez) does. He cleans up death scenes. I don't mean to be demeaning in any way," Russell said in an interview this week, stressing that when he arrives on a death scene, there often is still a body there. "He goes to a scene and cleans up. My point is if this is what you do, it has nothing to do with investigations. It has nothing to do with what the (coroner's) office entails."
Martinez said Russell's "janitor" comment shows "a certain level of ignorance in what we do and how we do it."
"I know what I am and what I do. I know the credentials I have and how I want to put myself out there," he said.
During his campaign, Martinez has presented certificates he earned from medical examiners' and coroners' associations in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and other states. Russell has disputed this tactic, saying Martinez is misrepresenting himself as an investigator and wrongly implying some of these organizations endorse his candidacy.
"He's never investigated anything. He's trying to portray me as a jailer who doesn't have any experience investigating and that's just not true," Russell said. "Police investigate. We go to the scene and investigate."
Martinez said he attended various conferences and training seminars to gain more experience for his business and also to prepare him for coroner if elected. "I am always eager to learn," he said.
Officials contacted by the Daily Herald confirmed Martinez' attendance, but noted that some courses were for police and elected coroners instead of a "vendor" as Martinez is considered because he's a business owner.
Lynn Reed, training director for the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association, said Martinez earned a 2010 certificate for Medicolegal Death Investigation. Martinez was denied admission to the ongoing class this fall because he was a coroner's candidate, Reed said.
"We did that because it would appear as an endorsement, the way he's trying to use that, and our organization does not endorse anyone," said Reed, who also serves as coroner in downstate Moultrie County. "He was a vendor (and) has been for several years with his private company. He did attend the classes and he did receive the certificate."
Alan Klimek, president of the Wisconsin Coroner and Medical Examiner's Association, said in an email that Martinez also attended an April 2012 conference sponsored by the group. The conference was a continuing credit class approved by the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators and Martinez was not certified by the ABMDI.
"He attended this conference as a student and his wife served as a vendor. He had indicated his desire to become a death investigator in his community and wanted to receive training to better prepare him for that possible role so we allowed him to participate. We accept most applicants that have or show direct and tangible interest in the profession," Klimek said in an email.
Martinez submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with the sheriff's department that showed Russell had five disciplinary actions during his career at the department.
Two violations occurred in 1995, and one each in 1994, 1996 and 2001, according to the sheriff's office. There were two written and three oral reprimands, records show. He was not suspended at any time. Russell said the write-ups were during his work at the jail and involved being a few minutes late punching a clock during the course of monitoring prisoners.
Russell said each officer had dozens of "clocks to hit" each shift, are part of normal protocol and guards could easily fall behind if, say, one prisoner was unruly or needed medication, thus slowing the process.
"In the thousands of clocks that I hit, I was late a few times. Those five minor violations, I admit to them," Russell said. "(Martinez) is trying to dig up dirt for people to question my integrity. I was 10 years in (the) patrol (division) and never had a write-up."