The investigation of the fatal June 16 shooting of a black South Bend man by a white police officer is not expected to end until February, or possibly later, The Young Turks has learned.
TYT obtained a Nov. 18 letter from the state attorney general’s office saying the investigation “is estimated to be complete by February 2020.” Ric Hertel, the special prosecutor appointed to lead the investigation, told TYT in an email, “My hope would be a February timeframe but I won’t commit to that as things could arise that were unexpected.”
Fifty-four-year-old Eric Logan was shot and killed by Sgt. Ryan O’Neill, who said Logan attacked him with a knife after being confronted on suspicion of breaking into cars in the early hours of Father’s Day. O’Neill was wearing a body camera but did not activate it.
The shooting became the most recent flashpoint of lingering racial tensions in the city, turning into a serious issue for Mayor Pete Buttigieg both at home and on the campaign trail.
The February estimate for the report’s release appears to represent a significant shift from previous expectations.
The lawyer for Logan’s family, Brian Coffman, told local media at the end of last month that the investigation was in “its final stages.” Coffman provided TYT with additional details, saying that on Oct. 25 state police investigators working for Hertel said they expected results by December.
“They told me that they were waiting for some [ballistic] test results to come back…and I believe they were conducting a couple more interviews, they wouldn’t say who. They kept it kind of vague,” Coffman said. “They said they anticipated that it would be by the end of the year.”
Hertel, however, pushed back on the idea any timeframe was offered. “There were and are things out of my control. Some of which are the detectives’ schedules, the time involved for lab analysis, consultation with skilled/expert witnesses, my schedule in Ripley County, etc. I’m not sure who told the family October, but when the detectives and I met with the family initially no timeframe was given for the reasons just outlined and others.”
While South Bend is in St. Joseph County, Hertel is the county prosecutor for Ripley County, 200 miles south. He was appointed to serve as a special prosecutor on the case on July 3.
Asked how he arrived at the February estimate, Hertel responded, “The lab has said they will have their analysis and reports to me within a few weeks. The local State Police detectives that I have chosen are a little ways out from finalizing their additional/independent investigation. It will take me a little time to review these things. Following that I will have some consultations with an expert or experts for additional interpretation/opinion. February is a rough timeline but I was being hopeful based on this. But I don't want to set a deadline for myself and those assisting me.”
Tyree Bonds, Logan’s brother, said, “We were told an investigation like that don’t take no more than a month.”
He said, “In the city we have, black people know already it’s a cover-up, because they don’t take that long to do an investigation. They ain’t gonna do nothing til after the presidential race because they don’t want publicity.”
The Buttigieg campaign declined to comment on the political impact of the timing and referred other questions to the city. In a statement, mayoral spokesperson Mark Bode said, "After the shooting, the Mayor called for an independent investigation by a Special Prosecutor to determine what happened and whether criminal charges should be brought. He has maintained that family members of those involved and the entire South Bend community deserve to learn the truth of what happened the night of the incident. Throughout the course of the investigation, the Mayor has had no communication with the offices of the Special Prosecutor, the County Prosecutor, and the State Attorney General regarding the timing of the [special] prosecutor’s decision."
Hertel, also asked about the politics of the timing, said, “Politics has no place in what I’ve been tasked to do.”
It’s not clear that Buttigieg would benefit more from the report coming out in February — with early primary voting under way — than in December. And Hertel would seem to have little political motive to help Buttigieg: Like most Indiana officials outside the Democratic oasis of South Bend, both Hertel and the state attorney general are Republicans.
Asked about the new timeframe, Sgt. Harvey Mills, president of the South Bend lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said, “We respect the process, and still support Officer O’Neill.”
News of the February estimate came from state Attorney General Curtis Hill because his office deals with subpoenas issued to county prosecutors. Coffman had subpoenaed St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter seeking records about the investigation. In response, Hill sent the letter to Coffman, who shared it with TYT.
While the letter reveals the February timeframe, its primary purpose was to notify Coffman that Cotter had chosen not to respond to the subpoena, citing the investigation’s open status. Coffman told TYT he offered to keep everything under wraps until the investigation was finished, but Hill’s office wrote, “Your assurances to not disclose any files to the media until the investigation is complete are insufficient to protect the Prosecutor’s Office from the deficiencies of the Subpoena…”
A spokesperson for Cotter told TYT that his office was unaware of the new timeframe estimate and had “not received any communication or updates concerning the case.”
Coffman predicted that Cotter’s refusal to respond to the subpoenas will delay the family’s case. Because their suit alleges a pattern by the city of turning a blind eye toward police racism, Coffman is seeking a broad range of testimony and other evidence that could shed new light on years of South Bend controversies.
One of those controversies involves both Cotter and Buttigieg. Coffman last week filed a motion to intervene in the seven-year legal battle over secret police tapes made in 2011, the year before Buttigieg took office.
TYT reported in September that city legal documents contain an account of the tapes in which white officers discuss using Buttigieg’s campaign donors to press him to oust the city’s first black police chief. Cotter was said later to be lobbying Buttigieg regarding who might replace the chief.