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.