A South Bend councilman wants the Department of Justice to investigate the South Bend Police Department.
Henry Davis Jr., in his Aug. 9 letter to the DOJ, said there's a racist and criminal culture within the department. He also noted some people in South Bend are frustrated with the police department and how it handled some recent cases.
“We definitely need this third party because the residents don't trust the political process anymore," Davis said.
Central to the distrust is the wiretapping scandal that surfaced in March. Illegally recorded phone calls at the South Bend Police Department led to the controversial demotion of the former police chief Daryl Boykins and firing of the department’s communications director, Karen DePaepe.
The recordings captured phone conversations among officers. DePaepe has said the recordings reveal racist comments. Davis said to get to the bottom of this, the city needs some type of intervention.
His four-page letter to the DOJ discusses Boykins’ demotion, noting Mayor Pete Buttigieg kept secret information about the demotion and FBI investigation into the tapes. "There's so many things that show that civil unrest," Davis said.
Davis then discusses the death of Michael Anderson, a 31-year-old South Bend man who died in July when he choked on a bag of marijuana after running from police.
A St. Joseph County deputy coroner ruled the death accidental due to asphyxiation from the plastic bag.
In his letter, Davis writes members of the community do not believe the police department’s account of how Anderson died. He offers several alternative theories, writing that some have said police used a Taser excessively and police stuffed the bag of marijuana down Anderson’s throat after they caught him.
Anderson’s family has hired a private investigator.
“Too many of our residents do not believe the official report and do not trust the county or city officials to deal with the issue appropriately,” Davis said.
In this letter, Davis said "there is a sizable and growing contingent of frustrated citizens who believe that our police department's treatment of minorities is biased."
"I'm kinda taken back of the overall assumption that racism exists in the police department," said Derek Dieter. He is the city’s common council president and a South Bend Police officer.
A majority of council members declined to comment on Davis’ letter. "This letter does not speak for the entire council," Dieter said. Councilman David Varner said, "I hope everyone would look at it as a person expressing their own opinion.”
Varner said Davis's letter is premature. The council just served Buttigieg with a subpoena this week asking him to release the illegal tape recordings or the case could go to court.
Davis' opinion is shocking some of those mentioned in the letter.
- Tim Corbett is St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit commander. He told WSBT, "I feel we are being targeted and this is reverse racism." He welcomes a federal intervention and wants transparency on all sides. "I hope the FBI and Civil Rights Division (of the Department of Justice) come in to deal with the issues at hand.
Corbett is under investigation, accused of verbally threatening a South Bend Police officer for talking about what was on those illegal tape recordings.