Pete Buttigieg at the South Bend Peace Walk on June 29, 2019, shortly after the fatal police shooting of a black suspect.

 

(Image: Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images.)

Documents: Police Used Buttigieg Donors to Get Him to Fire Black Chief

Ed. note: In an Oct. 29 interview, Capt. Dave Wells said that documents cited in this story were not authentic and denied saying anything attributed to him in the documents. Regarding the specific allegation that he used ebonics, Wells says, "Maybe. I don't know." The authenticity of the documents was verified by the city when it released redacted versions of them, as TYT reported on Sept. 30. TYT stands by its reporting.

Legal documents related to Pete Buttigieg’s ousting of South Bend’s first black police chief describe a plan by white police officers in 2011 to use Buttigieg’s campaign donors to get him to remove the chief, Darryl Boykins, once Buttigieg became mayor.

“It is going to be a fun time when all white people are in charge,” one officer is quoted as saying in the documents, which describe secret police recordings. The previously undisclosed documents shed new light on the most controversial chapter of Buttigieg’s South Bend political career.

The documents describe a plan to use two Buttigieg donors — including his campaign chairman — to lobby Buttigieg on personnel changes at the South Bend Police Department (SBPD). Both donors deny having such discussions with Buttigieg.

Buttigieg campaign National Press Secretary Chris Meagher asked to see the documents, saying, “You're more than willing to report rumors you are unable to prove, so it'd be nice to see some of this,” but provided no further comment.

The secret recordings of South Bend police phone lines have been a source of intrigue and controversy since their existence was revealed in March 2012, at the dawn of Buttigieg’s mayoralty. Speculation about the recordings and Buttigieg’s refusal to release them has dogged him into his presidential campaign, while their contents have remained largely a mystery.

Buttigieg has said as recently as this year that he wants to know what was said on the recordings, but that he is not sure he can legally even ask the city employee who listened to them to describe what she heard. But the documents show that Buttigieg’s lawyers secretly did just that in 2013.

Lawyers for both Boykins and for Karen DePaepe, the police employee who heard the recordings and was fired for her role in the scandal, would not comment on the content of the documents. Both, however, confirmed to The Young Turks that the city has had a Jan. 4, 2012, Officer’s Report filed by DePaepe that details what she heard, and her written responses to city attorneys who asked her in 2013 what she heard.

The responses the city got include comprehensive, detailed accounts of what is said on the recordings, describing a plan that unfolded over the course of Buttigieg’s 2011 mayoral campaign. Although their accuracy can not be confirmed without listening to the recordings, the documents’ authenticity was confirmed by sources familiar with the matter. (In response to a public-records request, city officials confirmed possession of the Officer’s Report and released a redacted version).

The documents say that, in February 2011, two white police officers were heard discussing a campaign to get rid of Boykins, with Buttigieg donors acting as go-betweens. In April, the officers say they believe Buttigieg is unaware of the plan, and that they expect the “little fucking squirt,” as one calls him, to win the mayoral nomination. After he does win, a third officer in June reports hearing directly from Buttigieg that “Boykins is done.”

The documents indicate that current SBPD Chief Scott Ruszkowski and the current county prosecutor, Ken Cotter, suggested to Buttigieg replacements for Boykins. The documents don’t say whether either man knew about the plan. (Ed. note: After this article was published, an unverified Twitter user identifying themselves as Ruszkowski denied even speaking with Buttigieg until 2013.)

Some of the officers involved — from both the SBPD and the county homicide unit (made up of police from South Bend and its suburbs) — allegedly discussed Boykins in racist terms, using ebonics in reference to him and other black people. Two black police officers are named as either a target for removal or the subject of racist rhetoric.

At some point in January 2012, his first month in office, Buttigieg learned that SBPD police had secretly been recorded by the department and that the FBI was investigating for potential violations of federal wiretapping laws. Two months later, Buttigieg told Boykins to resign. After black South Bend leaders sided with Boykins, Boykins rescinded his resignation. On March 30, in the face of the black community’s outrage, Buttigieg instead demoted Boykins from his position as chief — allegedly for his handling of the recordings.

Less than two weeks later, April 10, 2011, Buttigieg fired DePaepe, the SBPD director of communications who discovered the calls, reported them to Boykins, and then transferred excerpts to five cassette tapes. DePaepe went public almost immediately, reportedly suggesting that the tapes revealed possible police wrongdoing, including racist rhetoric.

It was DePaepe who first suggested that the tapes for which Buttigieg demoted Boykins might reveal a plan to accomplish exactly that.

In her 2012 wrongful-termination suit, DePaepe refers to a plan to get Buttigieg to oust Boykins — but gives no details. Since settling their suits against the city, and facing possible lawsuits themselves, DePaepe and Boykins have refused to speak publicly about the recordings.

For seven years now, the battle over the tapes has divided and defined South Bend. Buttigieg’s refusal to release them, claiming legal restraints, has cemented them as a subtext of virtually any discussion about the city’s police, its black community, or its power structure.

The following account of what was said on the recordings is drawn from documents including internal SBPD reports filed in January 2012 and DePaepe’s responses to the city’s December 2013 interrogatories.

The story told by the documents includes specific details and allegations regarding multiple individuals, some of whom have never been publicly tied to the recordings. Unless otherwise noted, those named in this account declined to comment or could not be reached.

Fixing a Ticket

It all began with an alarm from the SBPD’s Dynamics Instruments Reliant Recording System.

The system was supposed to back up digital audio recordings of SBPD phone lines automatically. When the system froze, DePaepe began checking the recordings. On February 4, 2011, noticing that the voice on one call didn’t match the officer assigned to that line, DePaepe listened to more calls, to determine whether the recording system had malfunctioned.

DePaepe didn’t realize it, but Captain Brian Young had gotten a new phone line from another officer who had just been promoted. And Young didn’t know that he had just inherited a phone line that was being automatically recorded. (In the Jan. 2012 Officer’s Report, DePaepe writes that a previous chief ordered numerous lines be recorded to capture calls alleging officer misconduct.)

Over the next several months, the recordings, according to the documents, tell a story involving some of the most powerful players in South Bend politics. But the trail started with a single ticket for a seat-belt violation: A ticket that Captain Young tried to fix.

The ticket had been issued in neighboring Mishawaka to the wife of an SBPD SWAT team member, and Young had emailed county prosecutor Eric Tamashasky in December 2010 to make it go away.

Capt. Young tells Tamashasky the ticket was never taken care of and her license was suspended, which Tamashasky says he will also fix. DePaepe gave her account of what happened next in her interrogatory responses.

“Young then asked what would happen if [Indiana State Police] stops the officer’s wife and arrests her for driving on a suspended license, to which Tamashesky [sic] replied 'we’ll fix that too'. Both Tamaskesy and Young then laughed about it.”

When DePaepe listened to more calls to find out what happened with the ticket, she stumbled onto something much bigger. This time, it was a conversation between Young and then-Lt. Dave Wells, of the county homicide unit, that began with a black street gang but led to the SBPD’s black chief. According to DePaepe:

“They were discussing problems with a local gang known as the Cashout boys when Lt. Wells started speaking in what is termed as ebonics, when a person mocks or mimics the way a black person speaks. Lt. Wells in ebonics stated to the effect ‘ain’t nothin gonna get done with the Cashout boys cuz Boykins, he take care of his home boys.’...

“Both Wells and Young began to ridicule Boykins and mock him, when Wells stated that Corbett had a plan to get rid of him.”

Screengrab of DePaepe’s responses to South Bend city attorneys.

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“Corbett” was then-Commander Tim Corbett, Wells’ boss, who ran the county homicide unit. An SBPD veteran, Corbett was already a known and controversial figure in South Bend.

Jack Colwell, a long-time South Bend reporter and columnist who’s now a distinguished visiting journalist at Notre Dame, describes Corbett as, “Kind of a Harry Bosch sort of police character, if you know what I mean. He gets his man. He solves the crimes. The results are great, but the way he gets those results are not always by the book.”

Corbett’s nickname, reportedly, was “Teflon Tim.” In an interview last year, Corbett said, “I know a lot of things. There’s a lot of people out there would be embarrassed by what I know.”

Asked by ABC57 reporter Clifton French whether he and Young ever used racist terms, Corbett said, “There’s nothing on these tapes.”

Another aspect of Corbett’s reputation is only whispered about. As TYT previously reported, some people on both sides of the law knew Corbett to use racist rhetoric on the job, including the n-word. Corbett’s lawyer, Dan Pfeifer, has denied those claims.

In 2011, Corbett was perhaps best known for a favor he did back in 2006. Bob Urbanski, a wealthy businessman and South Bend power player, had been at an impasse in his dispute with a local contractor. Allegedly, even threatening to have the contractor arrested — because Urbanski had “friends in the prosecutor’s office” — didn’t work.

So Urbanski called a friend — a fellow board member at the failed Sobieski Bank — who worked in the St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office, which has oversight over the homicide unit.

Urbanski’s friend suggested he ask Corbett for help, which is how Corbett ended up on July 13, 2006, in front of the contractor, with his shield and his gun, suggesting that the contractor ought to give Urbanski what he wanted.

The plan didn’t work out: The contractor raised a stink, costing Corbett a one-day suspension, a lawsuit, and plenty of headlines.

Fast forward five years, and Corbett apparently had a new plan: A plan to create a leadership vacuum at the SBPD that would lead to promotions for him and a group of fellow officers that Wells, Corbett’s lieutenant, would later refer to as “the inner circle.” Only this time, Urbanski would be doing Corbett the favor.

The Plan

In early 2011, with Capt. Young apparently unaware of the plan, Lt. Wells reads him in on what Corbett has in mind.

“Young inquired what was the plan, and Wells stated it involved the ‘money people.’ Young asked Wells ‘What do you mean by money people. Wells stated ‘Hensley and Urbanski’, people that are putting money in Buttigieg’s campaign. Wells stated Corbett said they [are] planning to get rid of Boykins and that they had plans to make changes.”

Screengrab of DePaepe’s responses to South Bend city attorneys.

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“Hensley” was Sam Hensley, city streets commissioner under then-Mayor Steve Luecke. Urbanski was the city contractor Corbett had gone to bat for in 2006. Phoned for comment, both Hensley and Urbanski denied knowing of such a plan.

Told about the police discussions in the documents, Henley said, “I don’t know where they got that idea, but that is absolutely false.”

Asked about conversations with Buttigieg about removing Boykins, Urbanski told TYT, “I’ve got no rec--knowledge of that.” In response to a followup question, Urbanski said, “Have a nice day,” and hung up.

How much Hensley and Urbanski gave Buttigieg compared to his other donors is impossible to confirm because the county, in accordance with state law, destroyed the 2011 campaign-finance records. Buttigieg has refused to say whether he still has his campaign’s originals. But some details are known.

Urbanski is a long-time political force in South Bend. As Colwell, the journalist, put it, “I think his connections always have been because he was willing to contribute to Democratic candidates.”

Buttigieg discusses Urbanski in his book, thanking him in the acknowledgments and naming him as a source of golden-hued reminiscences about South Bend’s glory days. When it comes to the donor of “some office space” for his 2011 mayoral campaign, however, Buttigieg refers only to an unnamed “booster.” That booster appears to have been Urbanski.

According to a South Bend Tribune report before Buttigieg’s first mayoral campaign disclosures were destroyed, Urbanski chaired Buttigieg’s 2011 campaign and was its biggest donor, giving $10,000 in 2010. The report also says Urbanski donated office space to the campaign.

No value is given for the office space, but according to 2011 first-quarter filings obtained by TYT, it was worth $1,850 per month and was donated by Urbanski’s company, Main Street Row. The value of that donation totaled $7,400 for the first four months of 2011, the filings indicate.

Hensley described himself as a modest donor, giving maybe one or two hundred dollars. The 2011 first-quarter filings show just a $50 donation from Hensley, and an in-kind donation valued at $44.30 connected to an event on March 25.

Asked whether the in-kind donation indicated his participation in a fundraiser for Buttigieg, Hensley said he “never had a fundraiser for him. Never.” A flyer from the campaign, however, shows Hensley and Urbanski co-hosting a $125-per-person fundraiser for Buttigieg at Urbanski’s home on April 13.

Screenshot of a marked-up 2011 Buttigieg campaign flyer.

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Hensley confirmed his relationship with Urbanski, saying, “I know Bob and I like Bob,” but did not respond to an email providing him with a copy of the flyer. (The Buttigieg campaign was also provided with the flyer and did not dispute its authenticity.)

Asked whether he discussed SBPD personnel issues in 2011 with Corbett, Buttigieg, or anyone in their circle, Hensley said, “No.” As to his opinion of Boykins at the time, he said, “I didn’t know him that well.”

DePaepe writes that the police conversation she heard about Boykins convinced her that the animus expressed toward Boykins was racial. She cites the use of ebonics and the lack of substantive complaints about him, other than an unfounded implication he was helping a black gang.

“I believed that speaking in ebonics and eluding [sic] that the Chief of Police, because he is black, was covering for black gang members to be a racial slur. I believe this because they were talking in ebonics, and it made me believe they wanted to get rid of Boykins because he was black. No comments were made as to him not performing his duties, just that he protects gang members.”

Screengrab of DePaepe’s responses to South Bend city attorneys.

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Although DePaepe alerted Boykins, he apparently gave her no guidance on how to proceed. DePaepe seems to have dropped the matter — until July 2011, when an unrelated public-records request by local media led the city’s own attorneys to ask DePaepe to hunt for relevant material on the SBPD’s recordings.

(It’s not clear whether Buttigieg was aware in early 2012 that his city attorneys not only knew about the taping system but had relied on it for years as standard practice. One document names Aladean Rose, the city’s top attorney during the tapes controversy, as one of many city attorneys who routinely asked DePaepe to check police recordings in relation to litigation or public-records requests.)

In this case, the July 2011 requests by two local reporters sought such specific records that DePaepe suspected an SBPD officer had leaked details of an investigation to the media. In addition to hunting down material requested by the reporters, DePaepe went looking for the leak. Along the way, she found new discussions about the secret plan, on calls dating back to April, heading into the mayoral primary.

The documents suggest the plan was well under way by April 5, 2011, one month before the primary. Wells and Young discuss “Corbett’s plan to get rid of Boykins.”

“Captain Young and Lt. Wells discuss their plans when Buttigieg is elected. They state Corbett advised Buttigieg that ‘Boykins is fucking worthless’. Young and Wells refer to Buttigieg as ‘that little fucking squirt.’”

Screengrab of DePaepe’s Jan. 4, 2012, Officer’s Report.

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Despite the suggestion that Corbett spoke directly with Buttigieg, a later conversation alleges that Corbett used intermediaries — Urbanski and Hensley, specifically — to sway Buttigieg against Boykins. DePaepe notes in her response to the city that in the April 5 call, Young and Wells “[b]elieved Buttigieg to be unaware of their plan which was spurred by racism.” (It’s not clear whether the reference to racism came from the officers or represents commentary by DePaepe.)

Expanding The Plan

Later on April 5, Young and Wells discuss new details of the plan, expanding its scope beyond just getting rid of Boykins. Now the two are said to target other colleagues to “whack.”

“Lt. Wells and Capt. Young continue conversations regarding the plan to get rid of Boykins. I believe this conversation also discussed getting rid of Will Johnson a black investigator because Boykins put him there. I believe this conversation had to do with Wells and Young making a plan of who they wanted to ‘whack.’”

Screengrab of DePaepe’s responses to South Bend city attorneys.

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Around this time, heading into the primary, a conversation took place involving an officer whose name would arise later in the recordings. This conversation is not in the documents and was not on the phone. It was at roll call, face to face with the rank and file.

An SBPD source, who was not privy to the contents of the police recordings, told TYT that they heard Young’s boss, Investigative Division Chief Steve Richmond (whom Boykins had promoted), and Capt. Bobby Hammer, who is not named in the documents, discussing the upcoming primary. They said, according to the source, that “soon there will be changes and we’ll introduce a new paradigm in our department.”

After Buttigieg’s primary victory, attention turns to who should replace Boykins. Richmond is in the mix as early as June 3. That’s also when Ruszkowski, the current chief, first gets mentioned — as meeting with Buttigieg to discuss who the next chief should be.

Ruszkowski isn’t angling for the job, however. A captain at the time, Ruszkowski is said to want his own boss, Uniform Division Chief Jeffrey Walters, to get Boykins’ job — which would make room for Ruszkowski to move up:

“Young and Wells discuss Ruszkowski meeting with Buttigieg to sway him away from Richmond, trying to promote Walters […]. Several phone calls were made to that fucking crew...people with the money.”