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Buttigieg's Police Issues Go Beyond Secret Tapes

South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg's office in the county-city building in South Bend.


(Image: Photo by TYT.)

UPDATE: Buttigieg campaign Press Secretary Chris Meagher responded Sunday to a list of questions from TYT. "These unsubstantiated allegations and rumors are too far-fetched to merit a response," Meagher wrote. Meagher reiterated Buttigieg's statement that he has not listened to the tapes and that he demoted Chief Boykins after losing confidence in him. Meagher did not explicitly address the claim that Buttigieg fired a city attorney for failing to head off the Board of Public Safety's request that state police investigate a controversial 2013 incident involving South Bend police, but said the mayor stood by the board's decision. Meagher's full statement appears at the bottom of this article.

A legal settlement signed by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg required a fired city employee not to reveal what she heard on secret tapes of police racism because it “might have a negative impact on ongoing or future prosecutions,” according to a copy of the document obtained by The Young Turks.

TYT has also learned that Buttigieg, now a presidential contender, allegedly fired another city employee one year later for failing to “deep six” a separate investigation into another police incident involving race, according to the former head of South Bend’s Board of Public Safety.

Over the course of several days in South Bend, multiple sources shared with TYT allegations of wrongdoing, including racism, by both the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) and the county’s homicide unit. Much of it, but not all, predated Buttigieg's mayoralty. In response to an email Friday with questions regarding allegations cited in this article, a spokesperson for Buttigieg’s presidential campaign wrote, “This is a lot that is going to take awhile to sort out.”

In the case of the tapes, Buttigieg does not appear to have publicly cited protecting prosecutions as a rationale for keeping the tapes secret. Instead, the mayor has said that releasing the tapes would violate federal wiretapping laws, because the police say they were taped unwittingly.

Scott Duerring, the former attorney for the woman who heard the tapes, told TYT that his understanding of the settlement’s language was that it was intended to protect only legitimate law-enforcement activities.

The tapes and other incidents have complicated Buttigieg’s relationships with the black community and his own police department since early in his tenure. Just three months in office, he initially fired but then instead demoted his black chief of police, Darryl Boykins, for his handling of the tapes issue and then fired the woman who first reported the use of racist language.

It’s not clear whether Buttigieg tried to identify or root out racism or corruption in the SBPD after the tapes scandal. Duerring told TYT, “There was never any attempt” by the city to learn about racist police rhetoric from the woman who heard the tapes.

And one officer alleged to have used racist language has continued to enjoy the support of some of Buttigieg’s most important backers. In his 2018 race for county sheriff, that officer’s biggest donors included top Buttigieg supporters and the lawyer Buttigieg brought in to handle the tapes case, according to campaign finance forms.

In his book, Buttigieg refers to reports of racist language on the police tapes, saying, “Infuriatingly, I had no way of finding out if this was actually true.”

However, accounts of South Bend police using racist language were shared with TYT by multiple sources — black and white — ranging from former local officials, police and other law enforcement, to a recovering drug addict who had run-ins with the police.

Some of those sources, including former Board of Public Safety President Pat Cottrell, spoke to TYT in generally favorable terms about police there. One SBPD veteran estimated that 240 out of 250 are good cops. One source said he heard of only one officer bending the rules. Referring to corruption discussed on the tapes, Boykins’ attorney, Tom Dixon, said, “Fixing traffic tickets was the worst of it.”

Buttigieg has said he does not know what is on the tapes, but Duerring told TYT, “They knew exactly what was on those tapes,” because legal documents detailing the tapes’ contents were sent to the city.

The woman who heard the tapes, Karen DePaepe, also shared details with local media at the time. Her tort claim against the city, in June 2012, said, “a ranking police officer of the South Bend Police Department, as well as others within the Police Department, were engaged in serious acts of misconduct.”

The suit described the contents of the tapes further, saying, “The acts of misconduct ranged from the potential commission of criminal offenses to serious breaches of City policies and procedures.”

Some conversations, the suit said, “contain racially derogatory statements relating to other ranking officers. … Many of these discussions related to schemes regarding how to influence the then incoming, now current, Mayor [Buttigieg] to place individuals in positions of power with the Police Department, including the ouster and replacement of former Chief of Police, Darryl Boykins.”

“I can tell you this,” Duerring said, “We had Pete Buttigieg’s deposition scheduled and that was what really precipitated the settlement… There was a very distinct desire by that side that Mr. Buttigieg be kept away as much as possible from what was going on.”

The settlement, signed by DePaepe and Buttigieg, says that in her job, DePaepe had knowledge about “conversations that could relate to law enforcement activities of the South Bend Police Department.”

The agreement continues: “Plaintiff [DePaepe] further acknowledges that disclosure of any such conversations might have a negative impact on ongoing or future prosecutions. Thus, to ensure that no law enforcement efforts are compromised, the Plaintiff agrees that… she will not disclose any such information…”

Ernie Lewis, executive director of the National Association of Public Defenders, told TYT that police racism could be used by defense attorneys to challenge police credibility or even set aside past convictions.

According to a report in The Hill, scores of prosecutions or convictions of black defendants could be challenged if the tapes are released and reveal that arresting officers used racist language.

“The city's obligation is to make those tapes available to the prosecutor,” Lewis said. “I would not place the burden on the mayor. I would place the burden on the prosecutor whose obligation it is to reveal exculpatory information. I would expect the mayor at this point to order the tapes preserved and to provide them to the prosecutor upon request.” (The county prosecutor oversees the homicide unit, which includes police from South Bend and other municipalities.)

Another Firing

Cottrell told TYT that in 2013 Buttigieg fired another employee, a city attorney, allegedly for failing to prevent an outside agency from being brought in to investigate a second incident with racial overtones.

In that incident, then-Chief Ron Teachman was accused of failing to back up a black officer during an altercation outside the city’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Center. The board voted on June 24, 2013, to request an investigation by the Indiana State Police (ISP).

Cottrell, who presided over the board at the time and said he supported Buttigieg in his first mayoral race, provided TYT with what he said were scans of a journal he kept in 2013, with entries related to the case.

Journal entry for July 17, 2013, indicates the removal of a city attorney from police matters.

(Image: Redacted excerpt of scan provided to TYT by Pat Cottrell.)

On July 17, three weeks after the board voted to seek an ISP investigation, Cottrell’s journal entry indicates that the city attorney was removed from involvement with the board. It says she “will not be our attorney. She will be only H.R. and Park.”

Cottrell told TYT, “They were taking her off because the week before, the ISP started the investigation.”

A few weeks later, on Aug. 8, Cottrell said, “I got a call from her and she was crying and I asked her what was wrong and she said that she was fired by the mayor and I asked her why she was fired and she said she didn’t follow the mayor’s orders in stopping the board of safety from asking the state police to investigate the incident.”

Journal entry for Aug. 8, 2013, indicates a city attorney claimed she was fired for failing to "deep six" an investigation by state police.

(Image: Redacted excerpt of scan provided to TYT by Pat Cottrell.)

Cottrell’s journal entry for Aug. 8 says that the woman “called to say she got fired because she did not deep six Teachman investigation.”

The woman who was fired asked TYT not to identify her by name and said attorney ethics prevent her from confirming or refuting Cottrell’s story. Referring to Cottrell himself, she said, “He’s an ethical guy. That’s all I can tell you.”

One insider in city government at the time spoke to TYT on the condition of anonymity and confirmed the woman’s involvement in the board’s outreach to the state police.

The insider said, “I’m sure that he [Buttigieg] was very unhappy with her level of communication with an outside agency.” He said he could not personally confirm Cottrell’s story about the reason for her firing, but said, “If [Cottrell] said it, it’s true.”

Both Cottrell and the city government insider independently told TYT that the SBPD removed videotape evidence of the incident from the King Center.

“After it happened, they sent the officers into the King Center to erase the tapes, because there’s video-cameras in there,” the insider said. “The folks in the King Center told me. This stuff is crazy. I forgot about that. It’s all the time, it goes on all the time. It’s nuts around here.”

Cottrell cited the ISP as his source for the claim that South Bend police tampered with the video evidence.

Buttigieg decided not to discipline Teachman and refused to release the ISP’s final report on the incident. In response, Cottrell resigned from the board.

A negative ISP report could have proved politically damaging for Buttigieg, coming just a year after the tapes story broke. Teachman was Buttigieg’s hand-picked permanent replacement for the black chief, Boykins, whom Buttigieg had demoted.

(Teachman resigned from the SBPD in 2015 and took a job with ShotSpotter, which makes gunshot-detection technology. Teachman had been instrumental in bringing ShotSpotter technology to South Bend.)

Buttigieg has cited the sensitivity of internal personnel issues to explain not releasing information about the Teachman case and the tapes incident. His claim that federal law prohibits him from releasing the tapes has been challenged on several fronts. Multiple SBPD veterans told TYT that police were notified that their calls might be taped. The city’s own Common Council has sued to have the tapes released.

Four police officers, and one of their spouses, sued to prevent the tapes’ release. Additional officers have since joined the suit. The dispute remains in court, although observers say a resolution could come within weeks.

At the time, Buttigieg reportedly laid the blame for Boykins’ demotion on the U.S. attorney’s office. Buttigieg told reporter Jason Aubry, “Based on our interactions with federal prosecutors, I had the impression that the best way to prevent any charges from being filed was to quickly correct both procedural and personnel issues in the department.”

Buttigieg has never said who in Capp’s office gave him that impression.

The lawyers for Boykins and DePaepe both told TYT they heard from Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Schmid that prosecutors told Buttigieg no such thing. Duerring said that Schmid, who interviewed DePaepe, said she and Boykins were never in legal jeopardy.

“That was bullshit from the start,” Duerring said. Tom Dixon, Boykins’ attorney, said Schmid told him, “The story was bullshit.” (Schmid, now in private practice, declined TYT’s request for an interview.)

U.S. Attorney David Capp said in May 31 letters to the city and to the lawyers for Boykins and DePaepe that no prosecution was warranted. Capp did not say whether any law had been broken.

In his book, Buttigieg writes that he lost confidence in Boykins because “he had not come to me the moment he realized he was the target of an FBI investigation.” Dixon told TYT that, “When the feds told [Boykins] just to hold onto the tapes until they got back to him, I think he didn’t feel there was much yet to report. He certainly wasn’t trying to hide anything.”

Despite Capp’s decision not to prosecute, Buttigieg said at the time that the allegations alone justified his actions against Boykins. “If you make mistakes serious enough to bring on a federal investigation into your department, you cannot keep a leadership post in this administration," he said.

An internal FBI form from Feb. 8, 2012, indicates that an assistant U.S. attorney considered one witness "less than candid."

(Images: Document scans by TYT, highlights added.)

Buttigieg has not said why he put so much stock in the accusations. An internal FBI document that appears to be about a wiretapping victim says that an assistant U.S. attorney found that “the interviewee had shown to be less than candid previously.” The document was provided to TYT by Pastor Mario Sims, a long-time adversary of the SBPD, along with other records Sims said he obtained from the FBI through a Freedom of Information Act request several years ago.

"Rumors Swirled"

As Buttigieg says in his book, he knew the department had problems coming in. He writes, “Rumors swirled of favoritism, opportunism, and cliquishness.”

Rumors relayed to TYT involved issues considerably more serious. Two police sources independently recounted to TYT a story of police — including one officer still active in South Bend when Buttigieg took office — murdering a prostitute many years ago and burying her body in nearby Michigan.

“I heard that from guys who don’t get involved in gossip,” said one SBPD veteran. “Being a cop is a noble profession, but not in this town.”

Other stories, which TYT could not immediately confirm, included rape of sex workers and homeless women, drug dealing, planting evidence, coverups, and more. One story involved a cop accused of forcing a sex worker to perform oral sex at gunpoint, who was allowed to resign rather than face an investigation.

Some sources pushed back on some of these stories, but virtually all reported witnessing or hearing of behavior worse than the problems Buttigieg cited in his book.

One of the officers on the tape, Tim Corbett, was said by multiple sources to have used racist language. When TYT emailed Corbett’s lawyer, Dan Pfeifer, examples of alleged use of racist language, Pfeifer responded that “none” of them was true.

One police source whose time on the force overlapped with Corbett’s, however, told TYT, “He was a known racist.”

Another source who knew Corbett told TYT, “Did he use racist language? Yes.” Despite Corbett’s alleged racist rhetoric, the source said he wouldn’t have thought Corbett himself racist, “Until I heard what was on those tapes.”

Cottrell defended Corbett, saying he never heard him use racial epithets. “Tim’s a hard guy, he’s a rough guy, but he’s also very compassionate.”

He said that Corbett’s compassion was for victims. As for suspects, Cottrell said, “Doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, to Tim if you’re a guy that’s involved in stuff like that, you’re just a bad guy to him.”

One source recalled pictures of convicted criminals posted in the conference room of Corbett’s unit. The source likened it to a “trophy room” and said it conveyed “the attitude that this is a sport.”

Patricia Wigfall, a lifelong South Bend resident, told TYT she had a criminal record including theft and drug charges and that she encountered Corbett during one arrest. She said that during the arrest, Corbett told other police on the scene, “Look at her, I’m sure she makes her family proud, running with n****rs.”

She said the incident occurred in 1997 and that when she told Internal Affairs that she was handcuffed and then beaten by police, “They basically told me, who do you think they’re going to believe, you or the police?” Wigfall said, “When something like that happens to you, you don’t forget. Believe me, I wish I could. Every time that name is brought up on the news or whatever, I go back to that day.”

Another police source who served simultaneously with Corbett also said he used the n-word and referred to black people as “nappy-headed this and that.”

That source called the officers captured on the tapes “racist” and told TYT, “It really ate their ass when [Boykins] became chief because he was stupid and he was black.”

He also claimed that Internal Affairs “would let skate the guys that they liked.” (In a text message about the removal of evidence at the King Center in 2013, Cottrell told TYT, “I know who did it from the description… and from description it was SBPD I.A. [Internal Affairs]”)

Two of the police sources said Corbett did well at the department because he had a high rate of arrests, which made superiors look good. “Successive chiefs used him to do their dirty work,” said one, who gave warrantless entries as an example, although he said he was unsure whether he ever witnessed this himself.

Pfeifer, Corbett’s lawyer, denied this account, as well.

There’s no public record of Corbett facing any official scrutiny in the aftermath of the tapes scandal, although he was suspended for five days after allegedly threatening officers in an incident reportedly related to the tapes. Last year, Corbett ran for county sheriff and nearly won.

According to Corbett’s campaign documents, he received a $45,000 loan endorsed by three of his donors. One of them was Pfeifer, his lawyer in the suit to block the city from releasing the tapes.

Also backing the loan was attorney Rich Hill. Hill was the special counsel that Buttigieg brought in to help him deal with the tapes. It was Hill who reportedly told DePaepe and Boykins that they faced prosecution if they didn’t step down.

The third backer of Corbett's loan was a retired local businessman named Bob Urbanski, perhaps Buttigieg’s most generous donor from his first race onward. State campaign-disclosure forms show that Urbanski donated $4600 to Buttigieg’s first run for office, his 2009 bid to become Indiana state treasurer.

Buttigieg writes in his book that, prior to his 2011 mayoral race, “We got a booster of my potential run to donate some office space that he owned.” Buttigieg doesn’t name the booster, but it appears to be Urbanski (who is identified elsewhere in the book as a “son of a butcher” who recalls South Bend’s better days).

Urbanski, who owned multiple South Bend properties and was advocating for city development at the time, chaired Buttigeig’s 2011 mayoral campaign. According to an archived version of a South Bend Tribune article, Urbanski not only donated office space to the campaign, he was Buttigieg’s top donor, kicking in at least $10,000. (As TYT previously reported, those donations can not be confirmed because the county no longer has the campaign-finance disclosure records. State law requires only four years of record retention for those filings and Buttigieg’s presidential campaign has yet to say whether he still has them.)

For Buttigieg’s re-election, Urbanski donated $12,000, according to records provided to TYT by the county clerk’s office. In 2017, Urbanski gave $5000 to Buttigieg’s political action committee.

Urbanski’s history with Corbett goes back even longer than his support of Buttigieg. In 2006, the South Bend Tribune reported, Urbanski had a dispute with a contractor, and called a friend who handled financial matters at the county prosecutor’s office for advice.

The friend referred Urbanski to the head of the county’s homicide unit, which includes South Bend. The unit’s chief at the time was Corbett, who agreed to help out.

Wearing his badge and carrying his gun, Corbett showed up at the contractor’s job site and told him to return Urbanski’s property or risk going to jail.

After the story came out, Corbett received a one-day suspension.

“Corbett was tight with Urbanski,” said one source who knew them. “Not a lot of space between those two.”

An internal FBI form includes quotations from a police tape recorded on April 5, 2011.

(Image: Document scan by TYT.)

An FBI description of one of the secret police tapes — recorded April 5, 2011, one month before the primary — includes the phrase: [redacted] advising [redacted] is worthless” refer to [redacted] as “that little fucking squirt”.

DePaepe's tort claim does not identify who was involved in the "schemes" to influence Buttigieg regarding SBPD personnel decisions.

In hs book, Buttigieg writes that as the incoming mayor he decided to “save major police department reforms for a future year.” It’s not clear whether those reforms ever happened.

The reason some have demanded he release the tapes, Buttigieg writes, “was about their belief that not everyone in the community could trust the men and women sworn to protect them. Like so many police officers and Americans of color dealing with the long reach of such past wrongs--and the present-day wrongs that flow from their legacy--I found myself answering not only for myself but for history.”

Buttigieg Campaign Response

Prior to this article’s publication, TYT emailed Buttigieg and his campaign a lengthy list of questions, including:

  • Has Mayor Buttigieg ever publicly cited his interest in protecting prosecutions as a rationale for not releasing the tapes? (If not, why not?)
  • Did Mayor Buttigieg take any steps--independent of listening to the tapes--to determine whether any officers, on the tapes or otherwise, were known for using racist language? (If not, why not?)
  • If the USA [U.S. attorney] office really did make such a suggestion [to fire Boykins], why did Mayor Buttigieg rescind Boykins' termination?
  • What was Mayor Buttigieg's feeling about the Board of Public Safety asking the ISP to investigate the King Center incident?
  • Is it true that the mayor or his administration fired a city attorney in response to her failure to prevent the board from seeking the ISP investigation?
  • Did the ISP report, or any other source, suggest to Mayor Buttigieg that video evidence of the incident was tampered with by police?
  • In his book, Mayor Buttigieg says "major...reforms" of the police department had to wait when he took office. Did they ever happen? In what form?
  • Can the mayor offer any comment on one of his earliest and most consistent backers, Bob Urbanski, joining his special counsel on the tapes case, Rich Hill, [and] Corbett's lawyer to back a substantial loan to Tim Corbett's 2018 sheriff's race?

The following is Meagher’s full response.

"These unsubstantiated allegations and rumors are too far-fetched to merit a response.

"Some things I will note, however:

"A reminder - Mayor Buttigieg has not listened to the tapes. He continues to wait on the courts to direct him on how to proceed so as not to violate the Indiana and Federal Wiretap laws, as well as what can and can't be released within the law.

"The Mayor did not rescind Boykins's termination. The Mayor demoted him due to a loss of confidence in his leadership. Boykins never informed the mayor he was under federal investigation...The mayor’s office found out from federal authorities later. Every department head is appointed by the mayor and the mayor lost confidence in the chief.

"Re: King Center - The Board of Public Safety is an independent citizen review panel. The Mayor respected the Board's decision to request the investigation. As an independent citizen review panel, the Board acted independently. The Mayor respects the integrity and independence of the Board and stood by their decision.

"Mayor Pete has worked hard to lift the veil of mistrust between police officers and the neighborhoods of color officers are sworn to protect.

  • Implemented body cameras on all law enforcement officers
  • Sought to recruit more minority officers in the police and fire departments
  • Stepped up mandatory civil rights and implicit bias training
  • Increased transparency related to use of force incidents"

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.

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