Transportation Secy. Pete Buttigieg has largely escaped national scrutiny of his 2011 demotion of South Bend’s first black police chief, but that may change, after a judge on Monday ordered the release of secret police tapes central to the scandal.
Although local coverage has focused on the possibility of racist rhetoric on the tapes, there may be political implications for Buttigieg. His handling of the improper internal police taping -- including demoting the city’s first black police chief, Darryl Boykins -- became the biggest scandal of his mayoral career and a nettlesome issue during his presidential campaign.
In fact, the judge in his order points out that no South Bend police were charged over the contents of the tapes, even after the FBI got them. Writing that he has not heard the tapes, the judge notes, however, that “sometimes the truth that is ultimately uncovered is not what was expected.”
Even before a judge ordered the tapes sealed back in 2011, Buttigieg refused to release them. Not until 2019 was it revealed that the content of the tapes could prove politically damaging to Buttigieg. The police are allegedly recorded prior to the mayoral election discussing using Buttigieg’s donors to get him to remove Boykins once he becomes mayor.
Buttigieg said during his presidential campaign that he had not listened to the tapes and did not know whether it was legal even to listen to them. In fact, however, his lawyers had previously, secretly, asked the one police employee who heard the tapes what was on them -- and she told them.
For years, Buttigieg has maintained that he removed Boykins because he learned from federal officials, rather than from Boykins, that the feds were investigating the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) for taping an officer’s line, unbeknownst to that officer. Documents released by the city in 2019, however, confirm that Buttigieg actually learned about the tapes from his own chief of staff. Police last year alleged publicly that they only went to the feds because Buttigieg refused to deal with it himself.
The judge in the case on Monday ordered the tapes not to be released until the appeals process plays out, so Buttigieg will not immediately be faced with hard evidence that he misled the city and voters nationwide about the issue. If released, the tapes could confirm the accuracy of the documents and police allegations about Buttigieg’s discussions about Boykins before winning the mayoralty.
Specifically, Buttigieg has suggested he kept Boykins on when he first became mayor because of faith in Boykins’ abilities. But two South Bend police officers said last year that Buttigieg privately displayed a lack of confidence in Boykins. A third said that Buttigieg was discussing potential replacements for Boykins even before he won his first mayoral election.
(When the police broke their silence last year, they denied some of the racist remarks attributed to them, and denied racist intent in others. They largely confirmed the accuracy of the city’s documents describing their taped remarks.)
The police tapes could also include mention of one officer badmouthing Boykins to Buttigieg’s chief financial backer. The police allegedly involved in those discussions have confirmed the possibility that those discussions were captured on the tapes. The financial backer previously told TYT he was “not interested” in disclosing whether those discussions occurred.
The tapes in question consist of five cassette tapes, dubbed over from the official police recordings by a department employee, who later described them in secret documents first reported on by TYT. However, there exist untold additional hours that could contain conversations the employee never heard.
Those additional recordings are still being sought in a federal lawsuit, the attorney who filed the suit told TYT on Monday. The family of Eric Logan -- shot and killed by police in 2019 -- is suing South Bend for an alleged pattern and practice of racism.