The South Bend Police Department has been roiled by accusations of racism since Mayor Pete Buttigieg demoted the city's first black police chief Darryl Boykins in 2012, according to reports dug up by the Washington Free Beacon.
Shortly after Buttigieg asked Boykins to step down over a controversy involving secret tapes in which white police officers allegedly leveled racial slurs at Boykins, City Councilman Henry Davis Jr. wrote a letter to the Department of Justice asking it to investigate the SBPD for racial discrimination.
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"There is a sizable and growing contingent of frustrated citizens who believe that our police department's treatment of minorities is biased," Davis wrote.
Davis cited the Boykins incident as the main reason for the letter. He said he also spoke to 15 black and white police officers beforehand, who told him that there was a systemic racism problem in the police department, CBS 22 WSBT reported. Boykins would later sue the city and Buttigieg in 2013 for conspiring to demote him with "racial animus." The suit was settled out of court, with $75,000 awarded to Boykins.
Boykins's replacements, Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley and Police Chief Ron Teachman—both appointed by Buttigieg—would face similar accusations of racial discrimination from black officers in the years following.
Four police officers petitioned Common Council to remove Teachman from office in 2014 and criticized Buttigieg for a "neglect of duty" allowing Teachman to "run amok" while the mayor served in Afghanistan, the South Bend Tribune reported. Chief among the officers' complaints was the accusation that Teachman had created new positions in the department without procedural approval, and had not allowed minorities to apply for these positions.
"This is just one example of the arrogance and untouchable attitude that is demonstrated from the chief of police," Theo Robert, the officer leading the contingent, wrote in a statement.
In April 2016, Sgt. Nathan Cannon filed a complaint, alleging that the police department had "discriminated and continues to discriminate" under Teachman and his successor, Scott Ruszkowski. Cannon's complaint stated that Teachman had continued the "long history of disparate treatment" to black officers by creating new positions and passing over him and other long-serving black officers to fill them, NBC 16 WNDU reported. Less than a week later, Lt. Marcus Wright filed a similar complaint, alleging that he faced harsh pushback when he brought the matter up internally.
In 2017, Sgt. Davin Hackett sued the city of South Bend and Teachman for racial discrimination. Hackett accused the former police chief of practices similar to those about which Cannon and Wright had complained, adding that he was "subjected to unjustified investigations and discipline" when he complained, according to ABC 57.
As the SBPD faced internal division over race, black residents in the city also complained of racially biased treatment at the hands of police officers. In 2012, three white officers entered a black family's home in the middle of the night without a warrant and shot 17-year-old Deshawn Franklin repeatedly with a Taser. The officers mistakenly believed that Franklin was the suspect in a domestic battery case, according to the Tribune. An internal police investigation later concluded that the officers had entered the house wrongfully and used excessive force on an innocent person.
The same three officers also faced accusations the same year for forcing a 7/11 clerk to attempt to complete several popular challenges, including swallowing a tablespoon of cinnamon and trying to eat ten crackers in a minute. The clerk completed the cinnamon challenge, but ended up vomiting in the store bathroom for hours afterward. He was unable to eat the crackers in the time required. The city settled with the clerk out of court for $8,000.
Commenting on the ongoing accusations of police racism in 2016, Buttigieg said the city would start to work on changing its tone toward minorities.
"We don't take it seriously because we're afraid of lawsuits," Buttigieg told the Tribune. "We take it seriously because these are fundamental civil rights."