South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking them for help in responding to a local case in which a police sergeant shot and killed a black man.
The letter, obtained by HuffPost, was announced at a press conference on Monday, two weeks after South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O’Neill shot and killed Eric J. Logan. The incident garnered national attention after it prompted Buttigieg to cancel several presidential campaign events and return home.
“Many South Bend residents, concerned about racial issues and their impact on our department, believe that the Department of Justice could be of assistance,” Buttigieg wrote. “As Mayor of South Bend, I consider it imperative that there be absolutely no racism in our city’s Police Department, and I welcome support in ensuring that no appearance or reality of racial bias impact our City’s law enforcement.”
O’Neill was investigating reports of car break-ins when he claims Logan threatened him with a knife. Logan’s family has disputed these claims and filed a lawsuit against O’Neill and the city of South Bend. O’Neill was wearing a body camera, but did not turn it on.
In the days since the shooting, Buttigieg has faced calls from activists to involve the Department of Justice and to bring in an outside investigator, as some voiced concerns that an internal investigation alone would not be sufficient. Court documents obtained by HuffPost showed that a fellow officer had filed a report against O’Neill for making racist and derogatory remarks in the past, but an internal investigation had found the assertions “not sustained.”
The Department of Justice declined to comment on the letter. It remains unclear how it will respond to Buttigieg’s request.
Buttigieg has come under scrutiny for the shooting and for existing racial disparities in the South Bend Police Department. At a town hall event in June, he attempted to provide clarity on the situation to emotional residents, who criticized the mayor and police chief for what they saw as failing to hold racist police officers accountable.
The mayor said neither he nor the police chief held the power to fire an officer and that the power rested with the Board of Public Safety.
In the press conference on Monday, Buttigieg spoke about reforming the board to better serve the community — expanding its resources, increasing its interactions with the community and opening its seats to applications by any resident who is not an elected official or city employee.
“One of the things that is clear going forward is that we need to engage our Board of Public Safety for a process that will invite community members to not only learn about, but shape many of the policies that guide our department,” he said.
The South Bend shooting has inadvertently become a part of Buttigieg’s presidential campaign and at the Democratic primary debate last week, he was questioned about it and policing in his hometown.
“I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to deescalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan,” he said. “When I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face the fact, and nothing that I say will bring him back.”
The mayor emphasized in his letter that he hoped that dialogue with the Department of Justice would assist the city and its community moving forward.
“I welcome the opportunity to learn more about ways the U.S. Department of Justice could assist our community. I would appreciate an opportunity to discuss this further,” he concluded.