The family of Eric Logan, the black man killed by South Bend police on Sunday, is planning to file a federal lawsuit Friday claiming that the administration of Mayor Pete Buttigieg has had “a pattern of civil rights violations” by police and that standard practice is “to look the other way.”
Attorney Brian Coffman, who represented the family of Cedrick Chatman in their successful wrongful-death lawsuit after the unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by Chicago police, told The Young Turks he will be filing suit on behalf of Logan’s family.
The suit, Coffman said, is intended at least in part to address issues around Logan’s death. Questions that already have come to light include why Logan was transported to the hospital in a squad car rather than an ambulance, and whether Logan had a knife when he was shot. It’s also unclear why Sgt. Ryan O’Neill did not activate his body camera prior to confronting and then shooting Logan.
Buttigieg has spoken publicly about his difficulties with the South Bend Police Department (SBPD), including specifically its issues with race. As mayor, he has made multiple attempts at reform, including the introduction of body cameras, and has pledged transparency in the Logan case as recently as the swearing-in Wednesday morning of new SBPD officers.
Investigators for Coffman’s firm visited the shooting scene on Tuesday, Coffman said, taking pictures and looking for evidence, including possible surveillance cameras. St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter, who oversees the special unit investigating the case, said at a news conference there is no known video of the shooting.
Coffman told TYT the suit is based in part on “some concern based on your reporting.”
TYT reported on Tuesday that fellow police officers accused O’Neill in 2008 of making racist remarks. He allegedly referred to an African-American woman as “black meat” and said of an interracial couple, “I hate seeing that it makes me sick, that makes me want to throw up.”
SBPD Chief Scott Ruszkowski testified in 2017 that he knew about that claim at the time O'Neill was promoted to sergeant. However, Ruszkowski also testified that O’Neill passed a polygraph exam related to the allegations. SBPD spokesperson Ken Garcia reportedly said Tuesday that an investigation of O’Neill found the accusations to be “not sustained.”
Coffman also cited another claim first reported by TYT. An SBPD veteran who requested anonymity described witnessing two instances in which O’Neill used excessive force against black people.
In one case, the source said they tried to shield an emotionally disturbed person from O’Neill’s blows. In the other, the source said O’Neill tasered a black woman who had been ordered to leave the scene. “They had to remove the taser prongs from her spine,” the source said.
“That’s the kind of practice we’re talking about,” Coffman said, referring to the woman.
The source told TYT that those incidents and others were reported to sergeants on duty, but that the sergeant typically “doesn’t give a shit.” Sergeants, in turn, are supposed to relay serious reports to the Board of Public Safety, which, like the chief, is appointed by the mayor. The source called the board “a joke.”
Coffman said, "If it's true, as reported by several news outlets, that Mr. Buttigieg's administration has looked the other way, then, yes, it's something we will bring up in this case."
Because TYT’s source was anonymous, Coffman said, “I take that with a grain of salt…That's why we're filing a lawsuit. We want the ability to have subpoena power, to obtain documents, video tapes, and surveillance tapes."
He also called it “very odd” that Logan was taken to the hospital by Officer Aaron Knepper in his squad car. “It's not protocol. It causes concern, you know, did they do more damage?" TYT reported that Knepper has been the subject of multiple local news stories and lawsuits involving claims of racism and excessive force.
Neither the South Bend Fraternal Order of Police, nor the SBPD, nor Buttigieg, have responded to TYT’s requests for comment on the case. Coffman said, “We have not determined if we’re going to file any kind of claim against [Knepper].”
The Logan family suit is being filed against both the city and O'Neill. As for what amount Coffman will seek from the city, he said he typically doesn’t enter into civil-rights cases seeking specific damages.
Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.
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