After a South Bend police officer shot and killed a suspect in an investigation, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) left the campaign trail to address the situation. Speaking at a late-night press conference on Sunday, Buttigieg admitted that in past instances of police misconduct, he "hesitated" to be transparent with the public.
Buttigieg's comments came in response to a reporter's question about the mayor's sometimes rocky relationship with the South Bend community, following his firing of the popular black Police Chief Darryl Boykins and the ensuing lawsuits still making their way through the courts.
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"One of the reasons we're communicating upfront right now is because of lessons learned from members of the community," Buttigieg said of the latest shooting. "We've had prior cases of use of force incidents and officer involved shootings where I hesitated, frankly, to get in front of cameras, because I didn't know very much and it was out of our hands. But what I learned is it's important to open channels of communication, to try to be clear where the city is."
South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski added that the community is "sickened" by the incident, which occurred early Sunday morning.
Police responded after receiving a call about a suspicious person rifling through cars, according to the St. Joseph prosecutor's office. One officer confronted 54-year-old Eric Jack Logan, who was black, in a vehicle in a parking lot in front of an apartment building. Logan left his vehicle and approached the officer with a raised knife. The officer opened fire on Logan, who died later that day in a hospital.
All South Bend patrolling police officers are required to carry Tasers, Ruskowski noted at the press conference.
During Buttigieg's tenure as mayor, both internal and external issues regarding race and police misconduct have roiled the police department. Several black officers petitioned Common Council in 2014 to remove then-chief Ron Teachman from office and criticizing Buttigieg for allowing Teachman to "run amok" in the department. The complaints continued under Ruskowski, with several officers complaining that the department "discriminated and continues to discriminate" against blacks in the force.
At the same time, the department came under fire from members of the black community who were concerned Buttigieg was not doing enough to address repeated abuses. In one notable instance, three white officers entered a black family's home in the middle of the night without a warrant. The officers repeatedly fired a Taser into 17-year-old Deshawn Franklin. They mistakenly believed that Franklin was the suspect in a domestic battery case, according to the South Bend Tribune. An internal police investigation later concluded the officers had entered the house wrongfully and used excessive force on an innocent person.
These same three officers also faced accusations of cruelty in 2012 for forcing a 7-Eleven checkout clerk to attempt to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon and to try to eat 10 crackers in one minute. The clerk completed the cinnamon challenge, but ended up vomiting in the store bathroom for hours afterward. He was unable to beat the cracker challenge. The city settled with the clerk out of court for $8,000.
When commenting on the ongoing accusations of police abuse in 2016, Buttigieg made comments similar to his words from Sunday night, resolving to be more transparent with the community in the future.
"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."