First in a series on Pete Buttigieg’s 2012 demotion of South Bend’s first black police chief and the secret recording of police phones. This series is based on interviews with South Bend political insiders and police sources, including officers who were recorded, some of whom are breaking their silence about the tapes for the first time.
Multiple South Bend police officers tell The Young Turks that before Pete Buttigieg became mayor, they spoke with him and his donors about replacing the city’s first black police chief.
The officers denied having any racial animus toward then-Chief Darryl Boykins, who Buttigieg demoted in March 2012, three months into his mayoralty. In his presidential campaign, Buttigieg has suggested that reappointing Boykins in Jan. 2012 shows he supported the chief and removed him only reluctantly. But he has never directly responded to TYT’s report last year that during his 2011 mayoral campaign he discussed replacing Boykins, and did not respond to emailed questions and requests for comment for this story.
Buttigieg has said he demoted Boykins for his actions regarding an internal police phone line that was mistakenly recorded, leading to a federal investigation. As TYT reported, the recordings allegedly include police discussing a plan to get rid of Boykins that involved two Buttigieg donors.
Those discussions were described years ago in secret legal documents by Karen DePaepe, a former police employee. DePaepe was fired by Buttigieg after listening to phone calls and transferring some to cassette tape at Boykins’ request.
In the documents she submitted to Buttigieg's attorneys, DePaepe writes that the plan involving Buttigieg’s donors was discussed in Feb. 2011 by Lt. Dave Wells. Four months later, she writes, Det. Jim “J.T.” Taylor spoke with Buttigieg and reported back that “Boykins is done.”
In a series of interviews, those officers and three others who have sued to block the tapes’ release shared with TYT what they recall about the year of Buttigieg’s campaign and what followed. They deny some specifics in the DePaepe documents, including the use of racist rhetoric (Buttigieg stipulated in a legal settlement with the officers that he knew of no "racist word" used against Boykins).
They also say they don’t recall everything; it has been nine years since the recorded conversations took place. The officers have not heard the tapes and, until TYT’s report last year, got only vague descriptions of what they allegedly said from DePaepe’s public comments in 2012 and then in her lawsuit.
Some of DePaepe’s account they attribute to her hearing only partial conversations, out of context. Other portions, they say, are just cops — including themselves — engaging in speculation, hyperbolic shit talk, and “soap opera drama.” There was no “plan” to get Boykins or other black officers, they say.
For the most part, however, they confirm the documents’ overall narrative: When it became clear that the city would get a new mayor, they began to speak with lots of people, Buttigieg included, about what that new mayor should do with the South Bend Police Department (SBPD).
How much of that talk reached Buttigieg or shaped his thinking, Buttigieg refuses to say.
On Dec. 8, 2010, South Bend’s mayor announced he would not seek re-election. Wells says the effect was immediate: “Boom. That is exactly when everything starts to blow up.”
In any town, everyone knows new mayors make changes at the top. And that means changes below. In the documents, Wells gives a running recap to SBPD Capt. Brian Young about the chatter at county homicide. Neither of them know that Young’s line is being recorded.
At the time, two cops were seen as top contenders for the chief’s position. One of them was the commander of Wells’ unit, Tim Corbett.
“Corbett was gunning for that job,” Wells says. Corbett describes it in more passive terms.
He says that, because he’d done a range of police work over decades, “Your name is going to become involved. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m reaching out and begging anybody or anything like that, but people put your name in the hat.”
Corbett says, “Honestly, I got contacted by fifty to a hundred people over the course of that election.”
Asked whether those people included the two Buttigieg donors, Corbett says, “Those are questions you'd have to ask them direct, but I would say yes.”
The donors in question are Bob Urbanski and Sam Hensley. Hensley last year denied talking with Corbett or Buttigieg about potential SBPD personnel changes. (He also told TYT he had never hosted a fundraiser for Buttigieg, but did not respond after being emailed a copy of an event flyer listing him as a host.)
Urbanski was Buttigieg’s biggest contributor, his campaign chairman, and the donor of campaign office space. Urbanski hung up the phone after telling TYT he’s “not interested” in discussing his 2011 conversations with Buttigieg and Corbett.
As homicide commander, Corbett worked for the county, not for Boykins. They didn’t have much contact, but both had been at the SBPD in the past. Corbett described Boykins as “a personable, kind of a quiet guy. He wasn't real outgoing or anything like that. I never had a problem with him up until the illegal wiretap.”
Corbett also didn’t have much respect for Boykins’ intelligence.
Asked about one account in the documents that he mocked Boykins as saying, “Duuuh,” Corbett says he doesn’t recall it. But he adds that he and Buttigieg discussed Boykins’ strategic planning in December 2011, and Corbett said, “Boykins can’t even spell ‘strategic planning.’ That came out of my mouth.”
The documents also quote Wells on June 3, 2011, saying, “Tim says it is going to be a fun time when all white people are in charge.” Corbett told TYT he didn't say that: “That’s bullshit. That’s bullshit.”
Wells said he doesn’t remember hearing or repeating that. “He’s got black kids,” he said of Corbett, “so, he’s not this racist that the community — a certain segment — make him out to be.”
Asked what he would say if the phrase does turn out to be on the tapes, Wells said, “I would like to hear the context around it, you know? I’m not excusing it, it’s certainly a terrible thing to say, but was it just kind of one of those bullshitting, joking kind of things or something? I don’t know, but I don’t remember that at all, and I’d tell you.”
The documents allege that Wells and Young referred to Boykins as “fucking worthless.” Both told TYT they thought that was possible. Young said he may have said that to Boykins himself later on when they began discussing the tapes. Wells said if he did use that phrase, he believed it would have been in reference to something specific, rather than an overall indictment of Boykins as chief.
In the documents, Wells refers to Corbett’s discussions with Buttigieg’s donors. Wells told TYT, “[Corbett] may have told them this guy [Boykins] is an idiot, he needs to go… but he told everybody that. As far as any kind of, ‘I’m gonna tell them to do A, B, and C, and they’re gonna listen to me,' [Corbett] never shared anything like that with me.”
When Corbett ultimately got face to face with Buttigieg in December 2011, he says, he told the mayor-elect, “I think this department's going down a path that I didn't like.”
Corbett also told TYT he thought Boykins did not use all available resources and methods to investigate and arrest members of the Cashout Boys, a South Bend gang mentioned in the documents.
Wells said he did not recall one episode in the documents, which allege that, “Lt. Wells in ebonics stated to the effect ‘ain’t nothin gonna get done with the Cashout boys cuz Boykins, he take care of his home boys.’…”
Wells said when he first saw that in TYT’s report last year, “That was something that I really looked at and went, ‘This is not right,’ because I would have never said of another policeman — regardless of how I felt about him — that they were protecting gang members. That just didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.”
Wells also rejected DePaepe’s characterization of his speech as "ebonics," and said there was no racial intent. Instead, he characterized it as street talk that cops often adopt. “I don’t make apologies for that. I talk that way to people down here all the time… If I come in there like the straight-laced white guy with a bow tie on, like, ‘All right, sir, tell me exactly where you get your stash from,’ they’re gonna look at you like you’re from fuckin’ Mars. They’re not gonna talk to you, y’know?”
According to Corbett, he never spoke with any of the 2011 mayoral candidates about the chief’s job during the campaign. He alluded, though, to “veiled sources” pushing him to Mike Hamann, one of Buttigieg’s rivals.
One insider told TYT that some cops were “angling” on Corbett’s behalf with Hamann during the primary. “[Corbett] wanted to be police chief. [Hamann] felt he needed to get out in front of it. He felt enough pressure… that he needed to make it really clear: ‘This is where I’m at.’”
Hamann declined to comment but previously told TYT that during the campaign he announced he would not commit to any personnel changes.
At the time, Taylor was president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, which held a candidates forum to help decide who to endorse. Taylor recalls Hamann saying he would not commit to any personnel changes, but said, “I don’t think Pete did.”
The Fraternal Order of Police
Taylor wasn’t just the president of FOP Lodge 36, for the previous few years he had been gym buddies with the future mayor. Buttigieg routinely picked his brain about the department.
“I’d see him pretty much on an every-morning basis, and that’s how I got to know him.” Taylor says they first began talking in 2008 or 2009. “He’d occasionally come up to me and say, you know, ‘How’s the Police Department going?’ and things like that.
“He'd ask you, ‘If you could change something, what would you change?’ not knowing that, okay, 'Hey, I'm going to be running for mayor and I'm taking notes,’ you know.”
Taylor was SBPD, but he was tasked to the county homicide unit, working with Wells. But Taylor’s vision of SBPD was rosier than that of some of the other homicide guys.
Discussing the SBPD with Buttigieg, Taylor said, “I would first always talk about the pros; the positives, you know.” He said, “There was good morale,” and he had no issues with Boykins. “We were doing great things.” But he also pumped up how homicide was doing under Corbett, with only one acquittal in 12 years, and an 80 percent solvability rate.
“We had such incredible teamwork and leadership, and, at the time, you had Tim Corbett,” and others in the unit, Taylor said.
“I’d sit there and talk to Pete about, ‘This is how the whole damn place should run.’… It happened, you know, one or two times a week.”
A month before the May primary, the FOP held its candidates forum. Hamann had strong rank-and-file support. But Buttigieg won people over.
Taylor was already on board. Wells joined him: “I was really, really impressed with his intelligence, the way he talked and his vision for the city.”
In the end, the FOP members voted to endorse no one. (Members were said to be skittish after endorsing a losing candidate in a previous race and engendering enmity from the winner.)
Taylor, still the FOP president, continued to tell people he was supporting Buttigieg. At this point, Taylor says, he had no reason to think Boykins was going anywhere.
“I literally thought he had no decision of putting [Boykins] out,” Taylor said. “There was no doubt in my mind he was going to keep him.”
Ultimately, both Wells and Taylor would sour on Buttigieg. “I fell for it,” Wells says. “And I think thousands of others are falling for it, but in the end, he didn’t bring a lot to the table.”
Taylor says that Buttigieg stopped asking for his input after the general election. “I’m already out of the ballgame by then.” From that point on, Taylor barely rates a wave at the gym.
“He was so open to listen. He wasn't the my-way-or-the-highway type attitude. He was literally: ‘Okay, that makes some sense, maybe we should be really looking into this.’… All to find out later on it was just all horse shit and it was just a smokescreen.”
But heading into the general election, Buttigieg and Taylor are still talking. One month after the primary, in June 2011, Taylor is quoted in the documents saying he spoke with Buttigieg and that “Boykins is done.”
Taylor doesn’t recall that, but told TYT, “Before the general [election] I can remember telling him at the gym one time, when he asked me who the chief should be, and I said, well, if you’re gonna become the mayor then I told him Steve Richmond should be the chief of police.”
In July 2011, Buttigieg was “open” to Richmond. “It was literally, ‘I’m open to making changes; if you had your choice, who would you make the chief?’ He literally asked me and I told him this is who I thought it should be.”
Taylor said Buttigieg asked him why. “I gave him all the positives about Steve. Yes, Steve was my partner at one point in time, but Steve taught me how to basically be a detective.”
It was that same summer, Richmond told TYT, when Boykins himself said he might not be chief much longer.
Richmond Gets Ready
Richmond was chief of the SBPD Investigative Division, promoted to the position by Boykins. In the summer of 2011, Boykins told Richmond it was time to start thinking about moving up again.
“[Boykins] reminded me that there was going to be the mayor’s election coming up and that he didn’t know whether or not he would be retained by the new mayor or if he would decide to retire.” Even if the new mayor asked Boykins to stay on, he was weighing opportunities in the private sector.
According to Richmond, Boykins didn’t say whether his line of thought was prompted by anything more specific than the mayor’s race. “He said he wanted me to be prepared in the event that someone — especially the new mayor, whoever was elected — if he were to call me to come up to interview for chief of police, that I needed to be prepared if that happened.”
Richmond had had administrative training. “I told [Boykins]… I knew exactly what I needed to do there: A strategic plan to present to the mayor in the event that I was being looked at to take over the helm. So I told him I would prepare.”
Richmond says Boykins also urged him to do some political networking. “Darryl pushed me to attend certain functions to get my face seen,” he recalled.
Ironically, Boykins appears not to have followed his own advice. At an August 2011 golf fundraiser for Buttigieg, attendees included Richmond, Taylor, and others. But not Boykins.
“I know a lot of people,” Taylor said. “I'd be part of election campaign fundraisers to help bring in people for, whether it would be golf outings or fundraisers, or things.” By contrast, he said, “I never saw [Boykins] in any kind of, like, a fundraiser or function or things of that nature.”
"Smartest Guy in the Room"
Buttigieg offers a brief assessment in his book of the SBPD as he found it. He criticizes the lack of a system for promotions or evaluations. But it’s not clear what he’s basing his assessment on.
Corbett says he doesn’t know whether Buttigieg got that critique from him, directly or through the donors. “I’ve been very vocal about that over the years, so anybody that has a couple of ears or can read, they know exactly my feeling on that.”
He said, “I have made it well known, my feelings on promotions and demotions and the way I think that they need to be done, and I don't think my evaluation or my feelings would have not been made available to him in one way or another.”
Either way, Corbett was adamant that Buttigieg didn’t mindlessly kowtow to his donors.
“I don't know where this stuff comes from, that Urbanski or Hensley or Corbett have all this kind of pull, we can just start making phone calls and go, ‘Hey, Petey boy, this dude’s out of here, this guy's in.'”
Asked whether he pushed Buttigieg’s donors to make him get rid of Boykins, Corbett said, “That's all B.S. Whoever is saying it is a liar and I will go on record they're a liar. That doesn't happen. You're not going to tell Pete Buttigieg anything. He's always the smartest guy in the room. He knows everything and he's going to make up his own mind. If it was the case like what you're trying to indicate here, then I would have been the chief of police, Steve Richmond would be, whoever other than Darryl Boykins, but that wasn’t the case.”
But one insider knew of another case in which advocates used Urbanski to push a job aspirant. And TYT obtained an Aug. 2017 email from Urbanski in which he tells Buttigieg, “Laura [O’Sullivan] is a [sic] outstanding person who would do an excellent job for you.”
Urbanski concludes, “I urge you to make her your choice for your new Chief of Staff.” Her appointment was announced two weeks later.
Aside from the FOP president and his donors, it’s not clear who else might have given Buttigieg any insights on the police department. As TYT previously reported, Buttigieg during the mayoral transition virtually ignored Lynn Coleman, an SBPD veteran who was an aide to the previous mayor.
Two other SBPD veterans — the presidents, at the time, of the Common Council and the Board of Public Safety, which oversees the SBPD — both told TYT that Buttigieg didn’t discuss the department with them, either.
Today, Buttigieg’s final appointee as police chief still holds the job. Chief Scott Ruszkowski told TYT that he and Boykins had been friends for years and he supported Boykins’ initial appointment as chief in 2007.
Ruszkowski says Boykins himself would not have lobbied Buttigieg on his own behalf during the 2011 campaign. “I could never see him having, like, to ask what's going to happen with him,” Ruszkowski said. “Because he's never been that type of guy.”