South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg publicly exonerated his police chief of failing to back up then-Lt. David Newton during an altercation.

 

(Image: Photo illustration; Buttigieg photo by Getty Images; mayor's office photo by TYT; Newton photo courtesy of David Newton.)

TYT Investigates

Leaked Report Contradicts Buttigieg Claims About Controversial Police Incident

Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s controversial claim that a secret report exonerated his chief of police in an incident with racial undertones appears to be contradicted by the report itself, according to a leaked excerpt obtained by The Young Turks.

The report was compiled in 2013 by an Indiana State Police (ISP) investigator, after a black civilian alleged that South Bend’s police chief failed to back up a black lieutenant during an altercation outside a community center.

Buttigieg refused to release the ISP report, but told city officials in a letter that witness accounts in the report “make clear” that then-Chief Ron Teachman, who is white, did not violate requirements for backing up fellow officers and that Teachman “has my full confidence.”

However, according to the leaked excerpt, which includes a summary of the report’s findings, none of the witnesses corroborate Teachman’s account. Multiple witnesses directly challenge Teachman’s claims. In some passages witnesses say explicitly that Teachman failed to back up his fellow officer, Lt. David Newton.

Buttigieg did not disclose that the ISP also investigated Teachman’s conduct after the incident, a fact that has not been public knowledge until now. Specifically, the report addresses conduct that may have violated other police guidelines, raising the possibility that Teachman tried to intimidate Newton and influence his account of the incident.

Asked about the secret report’s findings, Buttigieg campaign Press Secretary Chris Meagher told TYT that the letter Buttigieg sent to city officials “adequately covers the mayor’s position on this issue.” (Teachman no longer works for the city. Messages left for him by phone and email were not returned.)

Newton, now chief investigator for the county prosecutor, told TYT that, “In my opinion Buttigieg killed the report because it made Teachman look bad.”

Newton confirmed the report’s implication that he felt pressured to change his story. “Teachman tried to steer me to frame what happened,” he told TYT. “I was ruined… just because I wouldn’t lie and play ball.”

Members of the city’s legislative body, the Common Council, wanted to see the ISP report for themselves, but Buttigieg refused, citing the law and personnel policies.

Instead, Buttigieg sent Council members his letter, which suggested that witnesses gave conflicting accounts. “Across the varying recollections of the interviewees,” he wrote, “in my judgment the accounts of the incident contained in the report make clear that there was no wrongful neglect of the Police Duty Manual’s requirements on backing up a fellow officer requesting help…”

The report does mention “variations in the statements of the witnesses,” but the only variations the report focuses on are Teachman’s. The ISP investigator asks Teachman multiple times about differences between his account and those of other witnesses.

According to Newton and other witnesses in the report, the incident began when a center employee came in and told Newton there was a possible fight outside involving guns. The center is located in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Newton went out alone, “his hand on his duty weapon,” and called for backup. All other units were busy at the time, the report said.

Teachman had just gone to use the restroom when the employee reported the fight, witnesses said. Only Teachman gave a different account, telling the ISP that he and Newton learned of the fight at the same time.

According to the report, Teachman “said that they both started to get up to handle the situation at which time Lt. Newton told the chief that he could handle it. Chief Teachman said that Lt. Newton made this statement several times.” Newton, however, told the ISP he never said that to Teachman, and that Teachman had already left for the restroom by then.

The ISP asked Teachman about this discrepancy. “Chief Teachman was informed that of all the people interviewed, that he was the only person up to this point that said he was present at the initial notification of the fight. Chief Teachman stated that was the way he recalled it to the best of his memory.”

The ISP investigator writes, “I then questioned Chief Teachman about the fact that even Lt. Newton said [Teachman] was not present when [Newton] was notified.”

Despite the ISP finding that Teachman was “the only person” who said he was present when the fight was first reported, Buttigieg reportedly told the South Bend Tribune that witnesses differed on this point. The Tribune wrote, “According to Buttgieg, witnesses said Teachman was notified of the fight either before or after using the restroom.”

TYT asked Pat Cottrell, who was allowed to read the report as president of the city’s Board of Public Safety, about Buttigieg’s claim. “That’s a lie,” Cottrell told TYT. “Plain and simple.”

The report noted other times when Teachman’s recollection was either fuzzy or challenged by witnesses. He could not recall what he did in the restroom or how long he was there. He said a young male first reported the fight, while other witnesses said it was the employee, a 66-year-old man.

The report says, “Teachman did not recall speaking to anyone prior to going outside to assist Lt. Newton. This statement does contradict what other witnesses stated.”

One passage gives specific details from witnesses about Teachman’s actions after learning that Newton needed help outside.

“Chief Teachman was asked if he recalled adjusting the floor mats near the front doors, introducing himself to two females, speaking with the females about their church, and then going back and adjusting the floor mats again as was stated by other witnesses.”

According to the report, “At first Chief Teachman stated, ‘Absolutely not,’ to these questions. He then said, ‘Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Floor mats?’ He then said, ‘Gosh, was it there that day.’ He now said he had a vague memory, but did not think it was there that day… Chief Teachman spent over a minute talking about his recollection of possibly adjusting floor mats.”

Other passages also conflict with Buttigieg’s claim that witnesses exonerated Teachman.

For instance, the report refers to a witness who “told Rev. [Greg] Brown that Chief Teachman… would not come outside to help.”

Brown, who made the initial complaint about Teachman, told the ISP he spoke with people inside the center after the incident. According to the report, Brown “said that they told him the chief did not come outside and stood at the door and messed with the floor mats.”

The ISP also interviewed the center’s supervisor, Maurice Scott. The report says, “Scott told Lt. Newton, ‘You know that your chief wasn’t coming out here to help you.’ Lt. Newton advised Mr. Scott that the chief was in the restroom and would have come out. Mr. Scott told him he wasn’t.”

Teachman himself told the ISP that an unknown individual told him he was needed outside and that “this person questioned why he was not outside helping.” In the report, Teachman says he believed the fight outside involved children and therefore he was not needed.

The report was seen by only the mayor’s office and the Board of Public Safety, members of which were prohibited by law from discussing its contents. (The leaked excerpt was provided anonymously to TYT. Its authenticity was confirmed by Cottrell and the Buttigieg campaign did not dispute it.)

Most of the five-member board voted against disciplining Teachman. Cottrell says that he and another member favored termination. A third, Cottrell claimed, agreed that Teachman erred and favored taking at least some steps, short of official discipline, in response. That board member declined to comment and TYT was unable to reach other board members from that time.

Buttigieg's letter says that he and Teachman "agreed that he could use this as a teaching moment within the Department." Teachman, Buttigieg says, offered to speak to the rank and file about how to "go above and beyond the requirements of the law and the duty manual."

The Council president at the time, Derek Dieter, encouraged Newton to come forward, according to emails obtained by the South Bend Tribune. Buttigieg reportedly blamed Dieter for politicizing the situation.

The fact that Dieter was also serving as an SBPD corporal under Teachman drew criticisms of his conflict of interest. Newton confirmed to TYT that Dieter urged him to share his story with the Council, but denied that Dieter influenced his account of the incident.

Instead, Newton said he thinks Buttigieg should have done something about Teachman’s attempts to influence his account. The ISP report devotes significant attention to Teachman’s conduct — including interactions with Newton — after learning that the incident might be investigated.

Teachman, the report says, sent email from his personal account to Newton’s personal account discussing the incident. In one email, “the chief said that he thought another officer was dealing with the incident.” Newton responded that this was not true.

Emails show then-Chief Ron Teachman using personal accounts to discuss specifics of the coming investigation into whether he failed to back up a fellow officer.

(Screengrab of emails provided by David Newton.)

Newton provided that email exchange to TYT and described it as an attempt to push an alternative narrative on him. Teachman, Newton said, “emailed me to get me to say, ‘Oh it wasn’t a big deal, other officers were going to handle it.’ When I told him it was me out there he figured I was either too dumb to get what he wanted or I just wouldn’t change my story.”

The report also reveals that Newton was questioned about the incident by an Internal Affairs lieutenant in the SBPD. At one point, Teachman enters the room while Newton and the lieutenant discuss the incident.

Referring to Newton, the report says, “When asked if he found it ironic that the chief would show up in the middle of his interview… he responded by saying, ‘I know bad acting when I see it.’ Lt. Newton was asked if he felt this was a form of intimidation by the chief and he stated ‘probably.’”

Newton told TYT that when the Internal Affairs lieutenant first asked him to discuss the incident, “I said is this formal or informal? And he said, ‘both.’”

As for Teachman appearing during the interview, Newton says, “It was a clear signal he was on top of the investigation and directing it.”

He said that when Teachman began to leave, the Internal Affairs lieutenant “is going, no, come on in and sit down. And I told them, ‘Really? Is that how we’re doing this?’

“And because I didn’t play ball, I got screwed. That’s a fact. And I wasn’t going to lie about what happened.” Newton claims he suffered retribution afterward, including demotion, before leaving for the county prosecutor's office.

Teachman told the ISP that the Internal Affairs lieutenant, “without being asked… attempted to obtain recordings” from the Martin Luther KIng Center, Jr., Community Center where the incident occurred. Cottrell and a source inside South Bend government at the time both told TYT previously that they believe the center’s videotapes were tampered with.

Newton told TYT, “The video from the King Center was gone.”

Scott, the center’s supervisor, told TYT, “I’m pretty sure they came in and looked at the video, they pulled the video off there.” He said, “I really don’t know” what happened to the tapes, but that he did not consider the incident a big deal.

After Buttigieg decided not to release the report or discipline Teachman, Cottrell resigned from the Board of Public Safety in protest.

The following month, October 2013, Brown spoke at a meeting of the Common Council. According to the minutes, Brown said that he originally reported the incident to the council because, “I went to Mayor’s Night Out to talk to the mayor about the situation. The mayor had no answers and did not want to hear what I asked or had to say.”

Referring to public comments Buttigieg made after clearing Teachman, Newton told TYT, “The mayor said we’re making a mountain out of a molehill, but if I got killed out there then what?"

Despite South Bend's small size, its rate of violent crime is high, and SBPD officers have been killed in the line of duty. Newton said, "I stood over two dead officers… The mayor at least owed it to me to say he [Teachman] screwed this up and apologize and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

The Teachman incident came at a time of lingering tensions between Buttigieg, the black community, and elements of the police force. The year before, Buttigieg demoted the city’s first black police chief, Darryl Boykins, amid an FBI investigation into secret tapes that allegedly captured officers using racial epithets. Boykins was not charged.

Buttigieg said at the time that he demoted Boykins because “If you make mistakes serious enough to bring on a federal investigation into your department, you cannot keep a leadership post in this administration."

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

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