INDIANAPOLIS — State Senator Jack Sandlin, a former police officer who launched a second career in politics to eventually serve in the Indiana General Assembly, died unexpectedly of a heart attack Wednesday at his southside Indianapolis home. Sandlin was 72.
After serving as a military policeman in Danang during the Vietnam War, Sandlin returned to Indianapolis in 1973 to become an IPD officer, eventually rising to the rank of Deputy Chief of Investigations and as an investigator for the Marion County Grand Jury before his retirement in 1996.
Sandlin later was elected Perry Township Trustee, city county councilor and state senator representing District 36 in Marion and Johnson counties.
As a lawmaker, Sandlin left his mark as a subject expert in the fields of law enforcement and criminal justice as well as homelessness and mental illness issues and the successful effort to scrap Indiana’s gun permit system.
“He was huge in mental health,” said State Senator Aaron Freeman, a fellow Republican from Franklin Township. “Now here’s a cop, somebody who has dedicated his life to locking people up, putting bad guys behind bars, but he also had the opinion of, ‘Look, some of these folks are not bad people. Some of these folks are mentally ill and need to be treated and helped’.”
Freeman attended a weekend event with Sandlin and was scheduled for lunch Thursday to talk over proposed legislation in the upcoming General Assembly.
“He’s supposed to be here right now. 11 o’clock this morning he was supposed to be in my office,” said Freeman. “There is probably not a decision I made without talking to Jack and probably vice versa. When I was at my bill limit in the Senate, Jack was always, ‘Yeah, I can carry that’.”
Sandlin volunteered to carry Freeman’s proposed legislation to curb what Republicans viewed as overreach by IndyGo, Marion County’s public transportation system.
“We would be in meetings and he would go, ‘Okay, this is going in that direction and this is what you want to accomplish so let me go clean up what you messed up,’ right, he would do that,” he said. “He was almost a quiet leader.”
Johnson County Sheriff Duane Burgess brought Sandlin on board as a reserve officer following his IPD retirement at both the Southport Police Department and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
“He did it for 23 years, very successful private investigator business and worked for me at Southport when I was the chief,” said Burgess. “Jack and I went on some out-of-state trips where we picked up fugitives and brought them back here to Indiana and Jack just always had a heart for law enforcement.”
Burgess said Sandlin’s law enforcement background made him the go-to lawmaker for legislation at the statehouse.
“If we had something where a law was missing something, particularly if the investigators would struggle with it on their criminal case, they would get with Jack, talk to him, and Jack would work to try to get that law changed or updated to be beneficial to us here doing our job,” said Burgess. “It’s a large void for us because you had to explain to him what you needed him to do but he would hit the ground running and go handle it.”
Governor Eric Holcomb issued a statement that read: “Indiana lost a true public servant today. Senator Jack Sandlin was a gentleman who devoted his life to serving others, in public safety on the front lines or in our State Senate. His clear voice and integrity will be missed.”
“You’re not gonna find somebody to fill those shoes right now,” said Burgess. “He’s just gonna really be missed.”
In the weeks to come, District 36 Republicans will caucus to choose Sandlin’s successor to serve the remainder of his term.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Freeman. “It’s a huge loss for the city.”
Freeman passed on a request to the Governor from Sandlin’s family that the Senator’s body lie in state in the Statehouse Rotunda pending burial with military honors in Madison, Indiana.