Editor’s note: This story is being jointly published by The Young Turks and The Root. It was reported by TYT Managing Editor Jonathan Larsen and The Root Senior Writer Michael Harriot, who wrote the story. A version of this article was also published by The Root.
Given the choice of superpowers, would you rather have the ability to fly or the power of invisibility?
This comic book-based Rorshach test allegedly reveals deep-seated personality traits. Supposedly, people who choose the gift of flight want recognition and praise while those who wish for invisibility are less confident and shun attention. While the question is interesting, psychologists reject it as unscientific because its answer reveals more about a personʼs collective life experiences than their subconscious. In many cases, the world has already made the choice.
In America, racism doesnʼt always present itself in the bold attire of venomous hate. Most often, white supremacy is cloaked in a suit and tie. It rarely looks you directly in the eye or stares with disdain. It is so vast and wide that it often overlooks your comparatively microscopically small existence. It reduces your desperately loud pleas for acknowledgment to a faint whisper. It makes you feel unseen and unheard.
The reason white school districts receive $23 billion more in funding than nonwhite school districts is that decision-makers donʼt consider the historical and economic inequities of redlining and segregation. Courts sentence black men to prison terms that are 20 percent longer than those of white men who commit the same crime because the criminal justice system overlooks inherent bias. This is why it is easy to believe the judges, school boards and employers who contend that they “donʼt see race.”
To be black is to be invisible.
New Mayor. Who ‘Dis?
In January 2012, Pete Buttigieg stepped into the South Bend, IN, mayorʼs office after winning the cityʼs first open mayoral election in 24 years. South Bend had three African Americans in visible high level and public leadership positions: Mayorʼs Assistant Lynn Coleman; Fire Chief Howard Buchanon and Police Chief Darryl Boykins.
In three months, all three would be gone.
Boykins had served as a police officer in South Bend for 27 years before he was appointed as the cityʼs first (and so far only) black police chief in 2007. In 2011, after the cityʼs police telephone recording system crashed, South Bend Police Dept. (SBPD) Communications Director Karen DePaepe discovered recordings of white officers allegedly using racist rhetoric and concocting a way to get rid of Boykins with the help of top donors to Buttigiegʼs then-ongoing mayoral campaign. DePaepe made five cassette tapes of the most egregious remarks and described them in legal documents the city has had for years. One officer allegedly said: “It will be a fun time when all white people are in charge.”
Soon after Buttigieg took office, word got out about the tapes, and the officers complained that the recordings violated the Federal Wiretap Act. Even though the recording system had been in place for more than a decade, its existence somehow became the black guyʼs fault.
According to Boykinsʼ eventual racial-discrimination lawsuit, Buttigiegʼs chief of staff, Mike Schmuhl, “with Buttigiegʼs full and conspiratorial agreement,” told Boykins the feds were investigating him and the only way for Boykins to avoid prosecution was to resign as South Bend police chief.
That was not true.
Two months after Buttigieg demoted Boykins, the U.S. attorney wrote to the city, explaining that, before Boykins was demoted, “We advised [the city] that our primary concern was that the SBPD practices comply with federal law.” The phone calls, the top prosecutor wrote, were “mistakenly recorded.”
In testimony that did not become public until this past September, Schmuhl later admitted that the feds never directly threatened to indict Boykins. Rather, he testified that “the strong impression the [U.S. Attorney] left with me was that our policies as it relates to telephone recording in the South Bend Police Department were out of compliance with federal law and their guidelines and that there were two people who were responsible for that, and that the impression was to end the investigation, that these policies needed to be adjusted and put in compliance and that personnel actions needed to be taken.”
At the time, according to Boykinsʼs suit, he believed his three decades of service could possibly end with a conviction on federal wiretapping charges. Boykins would later say in a sworn deposition that he felt “threatened and intimidated” by Buttigieg. After contemplating his decision, Boykins rescinded his resignation and was subsequently demoted by Buttigieg. Buttigieg fired DePaepe for her role in the scandal.
So what happened to the white officers who were heard on the recordings?
- Captain Brian Young went on to lead the countyʼs Special Victims Unit.
- Dave Wells became the commander of the Countyʼs drug unit.
- Tim Corbett almost won the 2018 sheriff's race.
- Steve Richmond retired and moved to Michigan.
“South Bend is like an onion — the more layers you peel away, the more you want to cry.” — Davin Hackett, former SBPD police officer
Buttigieg claims that he has never listened to the tapes, because that would be illegal. More recently, in response to a question at an April 2019 CNN Town Hall, Buttigieg not only insisted that he has never listened to the tapes, but he claimed that he doesn’t know what’s on the tapes.
In his book, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future, Buttigieg wrote:
“Infuriatingly, I had no way of finding out if [the allegations of racist language on the tapes] was actually true. The entire crisis was the result of the fact that the recordings were allegedly made in violation of the law. Under the Federal Wiretap Act, this meant that it could be a felony not just to make the recordings, but to reproduce and disclose them. Like everyone else in the community, I wanted to know what was on these recordings. But it was potentially illegal for me to find out, and it was not clear I could even ask, without fear of legal repercussions. As of this writing, I have not heard the recordings, and I still donʼt know if I, and the public, ever will."
Responding to an email asking if he has ever been informed that there was racist language on the recordings, the Buttigieg campaign said: “When Pete first learned of the tapesʼ existence as a result of the federal investigation, he was not interested in figuring out what the tapes said,” adding that it was “irrelevant to him.”
“[A]ll he knew was what federal investigators had told his office,” explained a spokesperson for Pete for America. “[T]hat the Chief was improperly recording officersʼ phone conversations of his employees to determine who was loyal and disloyal to him.”
That was not “all he knew.”
In media interviews following her firing, and in her wrongful-termination suit, DePaepe hinted at what was on the secret police tapes. She publicly stated that she tried to meet with Buttigieg to tell him what the tapes contained. No one knew it for years, but DePaepe detailed the contents of the recordings in a 2012 officerʼs report and in 2013, answered written questions from Buttigiegʼs attorneys, both obtained by The Young Turksʼ Jonathan Larsen. In his July 2013 deposition, Schmuhl admitted that he “briefly” told Buttigieg that the phone calls contained derogatory and disrespectful comments about Boykins and Buttigieg.
Buttigieg eventually settled Boykinsʼ discrimination suit against him, Schmuhl, and the city for $50,000. The city paid DePaepe $235,000. The officers who were allegedly captured on the recordings also filed claims alleging that they were recorded without their knowledge. The city settled with the white officers for $500,000 and agreed that they were not “aware of any evidence of illegal activity by the Plaintiffs or any evidence that reveals that the Plaintiffs used any racist word against former Chief of Police, Darryl Boykins.”
Buttigieg repeatedly says he demoted Boykins because Boykins was the “subject” or “target” of an FBI investigation — but the U.S. attorney has never confirmed that Boykins was the “subject” or “target” of their investigation. Peteʼs chief of staff admitted as much in his deposition.
Buttigieg also insists that Boykinsʼ demotion had nothing to do with race, but he has yet to comment publicly on the fact that DePaepeʼs secret legal documents quote police as saying he agreed to get rid of Boykins before he even became mayor.
Why did Buttigieg pressure Boykins to resign and subsequently demote him? The only thing we know is that Buttigiegʼs explanation that Boykins was the target of a federal investigation is not true. It was never true. Still, Buttigieg — or proxies from his campaign — continue to repeat it.
This would not be the last time Buttigieg and the City of South Bend would be accused of discriminating against a black police officer.
Over the course of the last month, The Root and The Young Turks have received internal documents, examined formal complaints, and interviewed former officers who outlined a pattern of racial discrimination against black police officers in South Bend. The alleged discrimination spanned the course of multiple police chiefs, captains, and supervisors. The only common denominator is that every black complainant mentions one name:
You Canʼt Have Institutional Racism Without an Institution
When Buttigieg became mayor in 2012, the SBPD was 12 percent black (29 of 244 officers). There were 28 black officers in 2013; 26 in 2014, and by the time Buttigieg announced his run for president, the South Bend police force was six percent black, with 15 black officers.
Officially, Pete Buttigieg couldnʼt hire black police officers or fire racist cops.
The mayor invoked this legalistic defense during an interview with The Root when he was asked about Aaron Knepper, a white police officer accused of police brutality in at least four incidents since Buttigieg took office. Buttigieg repeated this claim at a contentious June 23 town hall in response to the fatal shooting of a black man by a South Bend police officer.
Itʼs true that the five-person Board of Public Safety (BOPS) has disciplinary oversight of the SBPD and the fire department — not the mayor. But, as Buttigieg pointed out in his conversation with The Root, the mayor appoints the BOPS members. The mayor appoints the chief of police. The mayor controls the board which controls the chief who controls the police. The ultimate leverage is in the mayorʼs hands.
So, why were black police officers leaving the South Bend Police Department en masse?
That is not an opinion. Itʼs what black officers specifically, repeatedly, told the South Bend Common Council, the BOPS and Mayor Pete in the memos, emails and complaints obtained by The Root and TYT. The claim is reflected in at least five discrimination lawsuits filed in federal courts. The accusations were leveled in our conversations with current and former SBPD officers. Included in the documents were letters signed by 10 black SBPD officers — a significant cohort of the forceʼs black members — in which they describe several problems within the department. The letters were sent in 2014 to the BOPS, the mayorʼs office, and the cityʼs legislature.
Three other black officers who had not signed the letter filed EEOC complaints around the same time (two cases were subsequently dismissed) — meaning half of all black SBPD officers were raising their voices and risking retaliation to call attention to the problems.
Since that time, all but five of those 13 have left. And most of the ones who left didnʼt leave law enforcement — they just left South Bend law enforcement.
“I now have more other black brothers standing beside me against the injustices that are ongoing within the police department and are subsequently ignored by the mayor. And we will continue to be labeled as trouble makers by the unjust white power structure that commits ongoing acts against us.”
- Theodore Robert to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Deputy Mayor Mark Neal and HR Department Head Janet Cadotte; August 4, 2014
South Bendʼs black officers had five basic complaints:
- White officers regularly received promotions, transfers, and positions that were not publicly advertised to black officers.
- Black officers were rarely promoted.
- White officers were selected to fill temporary positions. When the departmentʼs black candidates applied for the permanent positions, the white ones would already have an advantage because they had already done the job.
- White officers would not back up black officers when they were in danger or needed help.
- White officers were rarely disciplined while black officers were disciplined very harshly.
Not only is there a mountain of evidence showing that the cityʼs black officers felt marginalized, we could not find a single black complainant who said that Buttigieg responded to their concerns personally or in writing.
When The Root asked Buttigieg if he was aware that black officers raised issues of racism and discrimination, his campaign would only say that Buttigieg was aware “that some officers had filed complaints with the EEOC, and those were ultimately dismissed.” They also claimed they couldnʼt respond because “doing so in the middle of a legal process wouldʼve been inappropriate.”
To be fair, maybe the black cops were just invisible to Mayor Pete.
The Teachman Incident
After Boykins was demoted, Buttigieg replaced him with a white interim chief, Chuck Hurley. Having served as chief before, back in the ‘80s, Hurley had ties to some of the officers tied to Boykinsʼ ouster. After Hurleyʼs appointment, Theodore Robert, a black officer who would later send some of the letters detailing SBPDʼs racism, wrote to Buttigieg, pointing out that Hurley had been embroiled in yet another scandal — having been fired in 2005 from his job as the University of Notre Dameʼs assistant director of security for an alleged cover-up. Robert also raised questions about whether Boykinsʼ white replacement was even a certified police officer. Luckily, according to Pete for America, Hurley had received a “grace period” from the Indiana State Police, to give him time to get certified.
To find a permanent replacement for Boykins, Buttigieg reportedly interviewed 60 candidates in what his campaign calls a “collective community process” before settling on Ron Teachman, a 34-year veteran officer of New Bedford, MA. Besides a history of clashing with his former city council over transparency issues; never having stepped foot in South Bend; not working as a police officer when he was hired; and admitting that he could be a little “authoritarian,” the new chief had a lot going for him.
Ron Teachman was white.
On April 22, 2013, four months into his tenure, Teachman was at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center with Lt. David Newton — who is black and would later be a signatory to the letters we obtained — when a fight broke out in the parking lot. Someone said there was a gun. Newton rushed outside.
“[T]here were approximately 50 people in the parking lot engaged in a fight,” Newton told the Common Council (South Bendʼs version of a city council). “And I didnʼt know if they had weapons or not.”
Newton called for backup but other officers were dispatched on calls. So Newton pulled out his gun and broke up the fight without hurting a single soul. Chief Teachman never came outside to back Newton up.
Because they knew how South Bend worked, Newton and his fellow officers didnʼt say a word. Newton didnʼt file a complaint. But a black pastor who witnessed the event did speak up; he said he spoke to Buttigieg about it. But, according to the pastor, Buttigieg “had no answers and did not want to hear what I asked or had to say.” It ended up in front of the Board of Public Safety, which voted to ask the Indiana State Police (ISP) to look into the matter.
According to then-Board of Public Safety President Pat Cottrell and his handwritten journal from that time, Buttigieg fired a city attorney for failing to “deep-six” the ISP investigation into Teachman, a claim the campaign denies. When the Indiana State Police handed its results to Buttigieg, the mayor decided not to discipline his new white chief.