South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Elkader, Iowa, on Sept. 23, 2019, during his campaign's four-day bus tour of the state.

 

(Image: Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images.)

New Documents Raise Questions About Buttigieg's Ouster of Black Police Chief

Newly released documents obtained by The Young Turks appear to conflict with some of Pete Buttigieg’s public remarks about secret South Bend police tapes and his controversial demotion of the city’s first black police chief in March 2012, just months into his tenure as mayor.

Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, having reviewed the documents, maintains that they are consistent with Buttigieg’s statements. The campaign also says that Buttigieg was not involved in the litigation that generated the documents and that he “made sure he wasn’t looking at that material” to comply with legal restrictions on the documents' secrecy.

The new documents include a 2013 deposition given by Mike Schmuhl, Buttigieg’s presidential campaign manager, who was also his mayoral chief of staff. The city released redacted versions of Schmuhl’s deposition and other documents in response to public-records requests by TYT.

DOCUMENT: Mike Schmuhl deposition [redacted by city attorneys]

Three months after taking office, Buttigieg demoted Chief Darryl Boykins for his handling of secret police phone recordings, which came under investigation by federal officials. Buttigieg also fired Karen DePaepe, the police employee who heard the recordings and transferred some to cassette tapes at Boykins’ request.

TYT recently revealed that secret legal documents describing the recorded calls chronicle a months-long effort in 2011 by white police officers to use Buttigieg’s donors to oust Boykins once Buttigieg takes office as mayor. One officer is quoted saying, “It will be a fun time when all white people are in charge.”

That remark, and all mentions of the plan, have been redacted by city attorneys in their release of DePaepe’s Jan. 2012 officer’s report and her responses to the city’s 2013 interrogatories related to her wrongful-termination suit. The city attorneys cited a court order banning release of information about the tapes’ contents.

DOCUMENT: Karen DePaepe Officer’s Report [redacted by city attorneys]

DOCUMENT: Interrogatories and responses [redacted by city attorneys]

In the unredacted versions previously reported on by TYT, Buttigieg is said in April 2011 to be unaware of the plan to use two donors to get him to oust Boykins. By June, Buttigieg purportedly has decided Boykins will go.

DOCUMENT: Excerpts of DePaepe interrogatories with redactions revealed

The donors told TYT they deny the narrative laid out in the unredacted documents. The Buttigieg campaign characterized TYT’s reporting at the time as “rumors” and declined to offer specific comment.

Following the city’s release of the redacted documents, the campaign pointed out that Boykins was reappointed and remained in his position until the tapes scandal came to a head. It’s unclear, however, whether Boykins was told he was permanent or possibly a placeholder (the black fire chief, for instance, was kept on but was gone soon after).

One apparent conflict suggested by the new documents is that Buttigieg has said repeatedly that he doesn’t know what’s on the tapes. The new documents, however, confirm that his attorneys had detailed, explicit descriptions of the tapes’ contents as early as mid-2013.

Another is that, in his 2019 book Buttigieg writes that he does not even know whether he can legally ask what’s on the tapes. The 2013 DePaepe interrogatories include 15 questions from his attorneys directly asking DePaepe what she heard on the tapes.

The campaign says Buttigieg did not know any of this. Asked whether Buttigieg’s counsel — including city attorneys and outside counsel from Faegre Baker Daniels — failed to apprise Buttigieg about DePaepe’s story, the campaign said Buttigieg did not participate in the litigation and it was the lawyers’ job to make sure he did not look at material that was likely captured illegally.

Buttigieg Rapid Response Communications Director Sean Savett told TYT, “I would refer you back to his book when he wrote, ‘It was potentially illegal for me to find out, and it was not clear I could even ask, without fear of legal repercussions.’”

It’s not clear why Buttigieg’s attorneys felt they could ask DePaepe what she heard but Buttigieg could not. Attorneys typically can brief their clients on even sensitive information so that the clients can participate fully in their own defense.

Buttigieg’s reasoning for firing Boykins has been another point of contention, virtually since day one. Schmuhl’s deposition raises questions about that, as well.

During a CNN town hall in April, Buttigieg said he demoted Boykins because he “found out [Boykins] was the subject of a criminal investigation, not from him but from the FBI, and it made it very hard to trust him as one of my own appointees.” According to his testimony, Schmuhl told Buttigieg about the officers’ complaint before federal officials even knew about it.

Q: Do you remember when this information came to you?

Schmuhl: On or around January 18.

Q: How do you remember that so specifically?

Schmuhl: Steven Richmond e-mailed me following the meeting to thank me for meeting with him and said -- and sort of re-outlined what he said in the meeting and also said in that message that he was thinking of taking their complaint to an investigative authority.

Q: What did you do as a result of this information?

Schmuhl: I told the mayor about it…

Screengrab of Schmuhl deposition.

According to internal FBI documents, the case was brought to prosecutors the following day, Jan. 19, and then to the attention of the FBI.

It’s not clear when Boykins learned about the federal investigation, and Schmuhl testified that prosecutors told the mayor’s office about the investigation on Jan. 19 or 20.

Buttigieg has never said exactly when, in his estimation, Boykins should have told him about the investigation. It’s also not clear why Buttigieg, after learning about it from Schmuhl, didn’t take the issue to Boykins himself.

The Buttigieg campaign says, however, that Boykins never brought the matter to Buttigieg even two months later, prior to the city’s March 23 meeting. “If you’re a police chief and your department is being investigated by the feds, it’d be expected you’d tell the mayor, right? Boykins didn’t.”

In his book, Buttigieg cited another factor for demoting Boykins and terminating DePaepe: A “message…thinly veiled but quite clear” from federal prosecutors that Boykins and DePaepe “needed to go, or charges might be filed.”

In a March 23, 2012, meeting with prosecutors and the FBI, Schmuhl testified, U.S. Attorney David Capp “held two fingers up and said, ‘There are two problems, again, director of communications [DePaepe], the chief of police [Boykins].”

When pressed, Schmuhl testified that Capp never recommended termination or threatened indictments.

Q: Did they suggest any particular individual or individuals should be terminated as a result of what they say they found?

Schmuhl: No.

Q: Was there any discussion during the meeting of the federal authorities [of] charging anyone with a federal crime as a result of what they found? Schmuhl: The U.S. Attorney for Northern Indiana, David Capp, said that they would take a timeout from the case to allow the city to address these issues for 60 days.

Q: Anything else? Was anything said with respect to this? Schmuhl: As it relates to indictments or--

Q: Yes.

A: No.

Schmuhl met with Buttigieg later to brief him on what the federal officials said. At no point, Schmuhl testified, did he tell Buttigieg that keeping Boykins and DePaepe would lead to indictments.

Q: During that meeting, did you inform the mayor that the -- that any representative from the federal government advised that personnel decisions had to be made or criminal charges or more indictments would result?

Schmuhl: No…

Schmuhl is not an attorney. Buttigieg’s special counsel on the matter, Rich Hill — a 2011 donor and politically connected former city attorney — had no significant experience in criminal or federal law. Schmuhl testified that the presence of high-ranking officials at the federal meeting sealed the fates of Boykins and DePaepe.

Screengrab of Schmuhl deposition.

Schmuhl said, “[I]t was my clear impression that we had 60 days to address the personnel issues and the policy issues. And then if we didn’t, that the FBI would come back in and potentially reopen that investigation.”

Savett, the campaign spokesperson, stood by that reasoning, citing Schmuhl's testimony that the meeting “and the attendees of that meeting showed the severity and the seriousness of the problems…”

(Buttigieg in his book wonders whether he was manipulated into removing Boykins because Capp wanted to avoid "shoulder[ing] the possibility of taking down a beloved African-American police chief…")

Capp’s 60-day timeout apparently began on March 23. There’s no indication anyone asked Capp whether reprimands or disciplinary action would address his concerns about personnel issues. Three days later, Schmuhl told Boykins to step down, according to Boykins’ discrimination lawsuit. It’s not clear why Buttigieg did not take additional time to gather information or seek expert legal counsel, but Schmuhl testified that he took the FBI briefing “at face value.”

In May, just over 60 days after the meeting, Capp wrote a letter to the city wrapping things up. Contrary to the cops’ claim that Boykins wiretapped them to spy on them, Capp wrote that the line was “mistakenly recorded.” (An internal FBI document described one of the alleged victims as “less than candid.”)

Capp also described the March 23 meeting where Schmuhl got the “clear impression” Boykins and DePaepe had to go. Capp wrote that, in discussing the case with Schmuhl and other South Bend officials, “We advised that our primary concern was that the SBPD practices comply with federal law.”

Boykins’ attorney, Tom Dixon, told TYT that, as Buttigieg was explaining Boykins’ demotion publicly, “The U.S. attorney called me over for the specific purpose of disabusing any suggestion that they would do what Schmuhl suggests and [Buttigieg] used as his first explanation for Darryl’s demotion. When that explanation was blown out of the water, he then switched to the ‘I didn’t learn about this until March…’ which was yet another lie.”

Screengrab of DePaepe response to South Bend city attorneys.

In her interrogatories, DePaepe tells a similar story. She says that Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Schmid called her before Boykins was demoted. “[Schmid] stated there was no warrant for my arrest and he did not anticipate any warrant for my arrest. He told me again, I am calling to calm your fears, don’t quit your job.”

Almost immediately after DePaepe was fired, she began broadly describing the tapes’ contents to local reporters. Buttigieg in his book refers to these accounts as rumors:

“[S]omething happened that I did not see coming. Local press began reporting on rumors that the tapes contained evidence of officers using racist language to describe the former chief.”

Schmuhl’s deposition, however, raises questions about how surprising those reports really were. Before Buttigieg demoted Boykins, DePaepe told Schmuhl the officers were gunning for Boykins.

Schmuhl: She vouched for the chief, said that he was a good man, also discredited other officers associated with this issue, basically saying they were out to get the chief. They were gunning for him so to speak.

And by the time those reported “rumors” took Buttigieg by surprise, Schmuhl testified, Buttigieg already knew about “derogatory” language used against Boykins.

Screengrab of Schmuhl deposition.

It’s not clear whether Schmuhl specified that the comments about Boykins were racist in nature. The two pages immediately following that exchange have been redacted by city attorneys. (TYT previously reported that officers used ebonics when speaking about Boykins and suggested he was aiding a black gang.)

According to the campaign, Buttigieg did not ask Schmuhl to elaborate on the “derogatory” language, due to legal concerns about learning what was on the tapes. “All that had been presented to Schmuhl by federal authorities was that the chief was deciding who was loyal and disloyal to him based on the tapes. That’s notable because Pete did not know anything about allegations of racist language on the tapes when he determined personnel changes had to be made.”

The documents show that Buttigieg’s attorneys got DePaepe’s interrogatory responses on Jan. 31, 2014, including her report that police discussed Boykins using ebonics and had a plan involving Buttigieg's donors to remove Boykins. The city reached a settlement deal with DePaepe three weeks later. Buttigieg signed the deal on Feb. 24, agreeing to pay DePaepe $235,000, and requiring her to keep silent about the tapes’ contents.

TYT shared Schmuhl’s deposition with Dixon, Boykins’ attorney, seeking his response. Dixon said, “That [Buttigieg] would offer multiple disingenuous stories for his pre-planned demotion of Darryl is consistent with what I have seen from him throughout and the reason I sued him for race discrimination.

This is not the first time Dixon has challenged Buttigieg’s integrity. In April, when Buttigieg said in CNN’s town hall that Boykins was the “subject” of an FBI investigation, Dixon told TYT, “That’s a lie.”

Nor are these the first secret documents to give ammunition to Buttigieg’s critics.

In 2013, a new police chief was accused of failing to back up a black lieutenant responding a reported altercation involving guns. Buttigieg stood by his new chief, saying that a secret state police report on the incident included conflicting witness accounts.

An excerpt of the report, leaked to TYT, emphasized that the chief’s account was the only one conflicting with those of other witnesses. The excerpt also revealed that state police raised the possibility that the chief tried to intimidate the black lieutenant into changing his story.

At the time, Pat Cottrell, then the head of the local board that oversees the police, resigned in protest over Buttigieg's handling of the matter. In light of the leaked excerpt, TYT asked Cottrell this past May about Buttigieg’s description of witness accounts. Cottrell said, “That’s a lie.”

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

If you have tips on this subject or others you can contact us using Proton Mail at [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to stay on top of exclusive news stories from The Young Turks.

Getting ready...
00:00 / 00:00