The South Bend sergeant who shot and killed a black suspect over the weekend had a history of allegations of racist language, court documents show. One former South Bend officer also told The Young Turks about witnessing the sergeant’s questionable use of force against black people in the past.
Sgt. Ryan O’Neill was identified Monday as the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) officer who shot Eric J. Logan early Sunday morning.
County Prosecutor Ken Cotter said O’Neil told investigators he was responding to a report of possible car break-ins, spotted Logan in a car, questioned him, and fired two shots when Logan approached him with a knife. Cotter said that because O’Neill did not manually activate his body camera, there was no video of the shooting.
O’Neil was promoted to sergeant in 2015 by SBPD Chief Scott Ruszkowski, who was appointed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Ruszkowski testified in 2017 that O’Neil was promoted despite internal reports about alleged racist rhetoric by O’Neil.
Attempts to reach O’Neill were not successful. The South Bend Fraternal Order of Police phone is not set up to accept messages, its president was said to be in surgery and a message left for the chapter’s vice president was not immediately returned.
Buttigieg and the SBPD also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Buttigieg left the campaign trail Sunday to return to South Bend, holding a news conference about the shooting late Sunday night.
According to court documents, O’Neill was named by Lt. David Newton in an internal SBPD report as having made “inappropriate racial remarks” to two officers in 2008. The following month, Newton, who is black, sent a memo to higher-ups alleging that he was the subject of retaliation for reporting O’Neill’s remarks.
Ruszkowski testified that O'Neill was at one time removed from his position as a field training officer because of an allegation of racism but that he was not aware of it when it happened. O'Neill took and passed a polygraph test related to the allegation, Ruszkowski said.
In a separate case in 2017, another black officer, Davin Hackett, testified that Newton showed him specifics about the O’Neill allegations. The details included “using the n-word” in conversation with then-Officer Kelly Hibbs.
Hackett said, “O’Neill heard -- said something to -- about black males, and Kelly Hibbs' sister or cousin, I think, is married -- I think his sister is married to a black male. And Hibbs told this to Newton. Hibbs was worried about being blacklisted if he continued with the complaint. And he still was blacklisted, and he left the department to go to another department.”
WNDU reported Tuesday morning that SBPD said the allegations in Newton’s report were “not sustained.”
In his suit, Hackett alleged SBPD discrimination against him based on both his race and his simultaneous service with the Air Force National Guard. Hackett testified that he told Buttigieg about both.
In one exchange, Hacket is asked, “In your judgment, the city's decision to promote O'Neill was bad, was wrong, was unwise, right?” Hackett responds, “In my opinion, I think the -- I think Mayor Buttigieg, Chief [Ron] Teachman, Chief Ruszkowski…they made a bad -- bad decision, yes.”
Hackett also testified that Buttigieg did not respond to his complaints. He adds about one incident, “I don't understand why Mayor Pete Buttigieg did not look through this or sit anybody down and say, What is going on with the internal affairs or professional standards?”
In his testimony, Hackett also names officers who allegedly had “situations” with O’Neill and higher-ups who knew about it prior to O’Neill’s promotion.
Asked whether he thought O’Neill’s alleged use of racial slurs should have precluded his promotion to sergeant, Hackett said, “There's a history with O'Neil [sic] there that I think the city is just blind to. You have -- there's a situation with Officer Dues and O'Neil. There's a situation with another female, Bridgett Kelly or Kelly Bridgett, and all these officers know about, even commanding officers, even the FTO [Field Training Officer] manager, Captain Mattie Taylor. They all know about this.”
Specifically, Newton's internal report alleges remarks by O'Neill regarding black people, Muslims, and Arabic people. "Do you want to get some of that black meat?" O'Neill allegedly asked a fellow officer regarding a black woman.
Seeing an interracial couple, O'Neill allegedly said, "Man I hate seeing that it makes me sick, that makes me want to throw up."
TYT was not immediately able to locate the officers who allegedly had problems with O'Neill, but one SBPD veteran, in a previously unreported meeting this past April, did tell TYT about O’Neill. At the time, the source told TYT that O’Neill was “a known racist… [who] called people the n-word.”
After Cotter’s news conference, the same source provided details of alleged incidents they said they witnessed involving O’Neill. “I’ve been on calls with him--five calls, six calls--and every call he either ended up tasing somebody or they ended up on the ground,” the source said.
In one incident, the source claimed to have told a black woman to leave the scene, “and [O'Neill] tases her in the back. They had to remove the taser prongs from her spine.”
The source said, “Another time we had a guy walking who was mentally crazy. He was on something. [His mother] wanted him back in the house. He went walking down the alley, we caught up with him. O’Neill grabbed him, lay down on him and started punching. I just covered his face up, I put my hand on the guy’s head so he couldn’t get punched.”
Asked why O’Neill was punching the man, who was black, the source said, “I have no idea.”
The source said that the incidents were reported to a sergeant on duty, but the sergeant, “doesn’t give a shit.” The source said that SBPD is “supposed to run that stuff up” to the Board of Public Safety, which is also appointed by Buttigieg, but that the board “is a joke.”
Another officer on scene within minutes of the fatal shooting, Aaron Knepper, had a much more widely publicized history, according to local media reports. Knepper was identified by Cotter’s office as one of the responding officers.
According to Cotter, O’Neill told another officer not to wait for an ambulance but to take Logan to the hospital in their squad car. That officer reportedly was Knepper--and the decision to have non-medical personnel move the wounded man and then transport him in a police car has raised eyebrows among some South Bend residents who spoke with TYT.
Knepper and two other officers were found by a jury to have violated the rights of DeShawn Franklin, a black teenager who was asleep when they entered his home without permission in July 2012, tried to handcuff him, began punching him and ultimately used a stun gun on him.
SBPD called the incident a case of mistaken identity. Buttigieg in 2016 reportedly referred to it as “ an exceptional succession of errors, misfortune and mistakes.”
A jury awarded the family $18, one dollar for each constitutional violation. The city sued Franklin’s attorney to recoup $1500 of legal costs.
The following month, Knepper and other officers were alerted by a 7-11 clerk that a customer had just left, driving drunk, and should be stopped. The officers allegedly refused, citing a reluctance to do the paperwork.
After the clerk, who was mentally disabled, filed a complaint, he claimed the officers punished him by puncturing his tire. The clerk filed another complaint, after which Knepper and two others allegedly retaliated again by tricking him into swallowing a dangerous amount of cinnamon, leading to hours of vomiting.
The clerk sued and the city settled, paying him $8,000.
In 2014, Knepper was cleared of wrongdoing after punching and using a stun gun on a white South Bend resident. The city settled an excessive-force lawsuit for $15,000.
Two years later, Knepper’s altercation with Devin Butler, a black Notre Dame football player, led to protests after witnesses disputed claims that Butler attacked Knepper. Ruszkowski said that police body cams were not turned on until after the fight ended.
Protests against Knepper reached the city’s Common Council and, citing death threats, Ruszkowski ultimately took Knepper off patrol. The South Bend Tribune reported that Ruszkowski reinstated Knepper four months later despite having said he would wait for relevant investigations to conclude.
Buttigieg has resisted commenting specifically about Knepper, but told the Indianapolis Star in 2016 that South Bend policing has “deep problems.” The paper said Buttigieg “acknowledges he didn’t fully understand how much work it would take to reform the police department.”
Members of Logan’s family have said publicly and confirmed to TYT that they have questions regarding the circumstances of the shooting. They described Logan as having a criminal history, but one related to drugs rather than theft or violence.
Although Cotter described O’Neill as saying he fired after Logan refused to drop the knife, audio released Monday night includes O’Neill telling SBPD dispatch, “Guy threw a knife at me.”
Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.
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