Tension is growing over the way South Bend’s mayor handled accusations against police chief Ron Teachman. Now the man who resigned his position over it all is calling on the Common Council to open its own investigation into what happened.
The fallout stems from a fight that happened at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center in April. A member of a local watchdog group claims Teachman didn't back up another officer during that fight.
The Board of Public Safety asked the Indiana State Police to investigate. They did, and the mayor cleared the chief, saying he did nothing wrong. But the city won’t release the ISP report, saying it’s a private, personnel issue.
It’s straining the already tense police department and throwing a light on transparency the mayor promised in his campaign.
“Had the mayor made the right decision, this would all be behind us,” said former Board of Public Safety president Pat Cottrell.
He and the other four board members read the ISP report on the incident.
“It upset me because I’m a retired South Bend Police officer and you expect the chief of police to be a leader. And we don't have that,” Cottrell added.
But Mayor Pete Buttigieg came to a different conclusion, deciding not to discipline Teachman.
In protest, Cottrell immediately resigned from the board, but he won’t talk about what’s in the report – saying it’s a confidential, personnel matter.
“I think the public needs to know the facts. I don't think they need to see the report,” he said.
But, Cottrell added, he believes there is a way to make those facts public.
“Send me a subpoena. Common Council, hold a hearing. Put me under oath by subpoena and I’ll tell you exactly what I know from what I read,” he said.
Lieutenant David Newton is the officer Teachman’s accused of not backing up during the fight.
“I got on my radio, called out, said I needed cars to come back me up,” Newton recalled. “Then I just started yelling for people to leave. I just wanted them to leave because I had about 60 children behind me playing on the playground then, about 40 people playing basketball on the courts."
Even he’s not sure about whether Teachman did or did not back him up.
“I really don’t know because I was busy. I was out there concentrating on what I was doing. I did not make an issue of it at the time because the incident was over,” Newton said.
WSBT has filed paperwork with the City of South Bend in an attempt to obtain the radio calls from that day to find out what happened. South Bend Police spokesman Captain Phil Trent said no dispatch was punched for that call.
As for the radio traffic that day, Trent added he cannot confirm anything.
Cottrell told WSBT he knows Newton did call for back up but the dispatcher didn’t hear that call.
Teachman has declined to give his input on the incident.
“The mayor has addressed that,” Teachman said after Wednesday’s Board of Public Safety meeting. “We need to speak with one voice. The Mayor has the authority on this case. He's read the report, he's rendered his judgements on that and I'll stand by his conclusions on it.”
A statement issued by Mayor Buttigieg’s spokeswoman Kara Kelly Wednesday said “The Mayor outlined the facts when he announced his decision – a decision that concurred with the majority of the Board of Public Safety. The City has a uniformly-applied policy not to release details of personnel matters, except as required by law. Making one exception because of political pressure would set a troubling precedent.”