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.
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.
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.
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…