When presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said in Monday’s CNN town hall that his first chief of police was “the subject” of an FBI investigation, he was lying, the chief’s former lawyer told The Young Turks.
Buttigieg was discussing his handling of a controversial set of secret tapes that captured several officers on the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) in the year prior to Buttigieg’s mayoralty. Buttigieg ultimately demoted SBPD Chief Darryl Boykins, who had been accused by white officers of using the tapes against them.
At the town hall, Buttigieg said, “The reason I demoted the chief was that I found out that he was the subject of a criminal investigation, not from him, but from the FBI, and it made it very hard for me to trust him as one of my own appointees.”
Boykins, who is black, ultimately sued the city, alleging he was wrongfully demoted due to his race, and won a settlement for $50,000. His lawyer at the time, Tom Dixon, is now on a religious pilgrimage to the Medjugorje shrine in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but responded to questions from TYT via text message. Dixon said Boykins was never a subject of the FBI’s investigation.
“That’s a lie,” Dixon said. “Darryl was never a subject. He was a fully cooperating witness to a taping system that had been in place for the prior two administrations.”
Dixon's remarks represent a flare-up of a seven-year dispute over what prosecutors told the city. The U.S. attorney's office has never publicly resolved the competing claims.
Referring to then-Asst. U.S. Attorney Donald Schmid, Dixon wrote, “Donald Schmitt [sic] told me Darryl was never under investigation. They just wanted to know what was going [on] with the recording system. That’s why they told him to hold onto the copy of the tapes he had. They’d have never said that to an investigation subject. Anyone in law enforcement would understand that.”
According to the Justice Dept. manual, “A ‘subject’ of an investigation is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury's investigation.” Schmid declined a previous TYT request for an interview.
(In his book, Buttigieg wrote that Boykins was “the target” of an FBI investigation. The Justice Dept. defines a target as having “substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime.”)
Buttigieg has been criticized for allegedly giving shifting explanations for demoting Boykins and firing SBPD Communications Director Karen DePaepe--who discovered the tapes and reported the nature of their content to Boykins. In his own statements, Buttigieg has sometimes taken responsibility and other times put blame on the prosecutors.
According to a March 30, 2012, article in the South Bend Tribune after Boykins was pushed to resign, Buttigieg first released a statement saying, “Since January, I have been aware of a federal investigation into the South Bend Police Department’s practices relating to the recording of phone calls.”
The statement also said, “While my ability to speak on this matter is limited, it was clear that practices in the department were out of compliance with federal requirements.”
On May 12, after DePaepe had also been fired, Buttigieg said he made the personnel changes to head off a prosecution. "It was clear to me by the time in March when I had to make a decision that unless there were changes very quickly in both procedure and personnel, we were risking much more serious action by federal authorities," Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg told the Tribune, "Charges were not filed because we acted to satisfy federal authorities.”
Both Dixon and Scott Duerring, DePaepe’s lawyer, denied that to TYT. Duerring at the time told the Tribune that Schmid “personally called Karen at her house and said, 'Please don't resign. There's no need for you to resign.'"
Another factor, Buttigieg said then, was protecting Boykins, DePaepe, and the community itself.
"I saw a solution that I thought would be less disruptive to the community than any of the alternatives," Buttigieg told the Tribune.
He said, "[I]ronically, I was pursuing a solution I thought would do the best job of safeguarding the reputations of the persons involved… It was still the right thing to do to prevent them from getting into deeper trouble, even if they were going to hate me for it."
One month later, after prosecutors declined to file charges, Buttigieg told the Tribune that his actions were justified by the fact an investigation had even begun. “If you make mistakes serious enough to bring on a federal investigation into your department, you cannot keep a leadership post in this administration,” he said.
Then, earlier this year, Buttigieg suggested in his new book that he was manipulated by prosecutors into going after Boykins. “[P]erhaps they just understood the politics of all this before I did,” Buttigieg wrote. “Why should a U.S. attorney shoulder the responsibility of taking down a beloved African-American police chief, if he can get the mayor to do it for him…?”
In his town hall, Buttigieg said the reason he demoted Boykins was that he lost confidence in him after learning about the investigation from the FBI.
Buttigieg said in March 2012 that he had been aware of the federal investigation “since January” and that Boykins had not notified him of it beforehand. FBI documents obtained by TYT, however, indicate that the investigation did not formally begin until Jan. 31, 2012, making it unclear when Buttigieg believes Boykins ought to to have told him about it.
It’s also not clear why Buttigieg believed he had to make a decision in March. And the controversy has been fueled not just by the timing, but by the people involved.
Buttigieg brought in a private attorney, Rich Hill, to assist the city with the tapes issues. Hill, who did not respond to an email seeking comment, appears to have been involved in the city's dealings with both DePaepe and Boykins.
However, Hill also appears to have minimal experience in federal criminal law. His firm’s website says Hill’s background is in finance, specifically public finance. Hill did have experience with South Bend politics, having served as city attorney from 1980 to 1986.
After Boykins was demoted, Buttigieg asked the county’s Deputy Coroner Chuck Hurley to serve as interim chief. Hurley, a veteran police officer, had served as the SBPD chief from 1984 to 1988.
In Boykins’ lawsuit, he accuses Buttigieg of “racial animus,” alleging that Buttigieg and an aide had sought a pretext to let Boykins go.
The suit also pointed out that the early days of the Buttigieg administration also saw the departure of a black mayoral aide and the retirement of a black fire chief whom Buttigieg replaced with a white fire chief. (TYT reported last week that Buttigieg in 2013 allegedly fired another city employee for failing to head off an outside investigation of an SBPD incident with racial overtones.)
Since the tapes scandal, Buttigieg has spoken of the need to improve diversity in the city’s hiring, and powerfully backed a black candidate for city clerk in 2015.
In January 2015, Buttigieg announced the retention of a consulting firm to assess the city’s hiring practices.
Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.
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