A police sergeant who shot and killed a black man in South Bend, Indiana, over the weekend faced internal allegations of racist and derogatory comments, according to court documents obtained by HuffPost.
The incident — in which South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O’Neill shot and killed Eric J. Logan early on Sunday — garnered national attention after it prompted Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to cancel campaign events to return home.
O’Neill, a 19-year veteran of the department, was responding to reports of car break-ins when he confronted Logan, prosecutor Ken Cotter said in a press conference on Monday. O’Neill alleges that Logan was carrying a knife and repeatedly refused demands to drop it. O’Neill said he fired two shots as Logan approached, striking him in the abdomen. Logan later died at the hospital.
O’Neill and Logan were the only witnesses to the shooting, and O’Neill did not have his body camera on. He has since been placed on paid administrative leave.
In a press conference on Monday, Logan’s family members said that he had just left a family gathering and was walking to his mother’s house when he was killed. They argued that Logan wasn’t breaking into cars or carrying a knife.
“I’ve known Eric for over 30 years,” Vernado Malone, his cousin said. “He don’t break into cars. He don’t steal.”
But court documents first unearthed by The Young Turks show that O’Neill’s fellow officers had previously accused him of making racist and discriminatory comments.
David Newton, then a lieutenant at the department, filed an internal report to the Administrative Advisory board in 2008 against O’Neill for derogatory comments he made in the presence of other officers. Newton filed the report on behalf of trainee Kelly Hibbs who he claimed felt uncomfortable speaking out for fear of retaliation.
Hibbs recalled that O’Neill, upon spotting a black woman from their patrol vehicle, turned to Hibbs and asked, “do you want to get some of that black meat?” Later, when passing a black man walking with a white woman, O’Neill allegedly said, “man I hate seeing that, it makes me sick, that makes me want to throw up.”
Newton said that another officer told him that O’Neill made derogatory comments about Muslim and Arabic people while at a breakfast stop.
After filing the report, Newton claimed that O’Neill became “highly critical” of him, and a month later he filed a new memo to defend himself from potential retaliation for the report.
Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski acknowledged in his deposition that O’Neill had been removed from his position as a field training officer due to allegations of racism, but added that O’Neill had passed a polygraph test relating to the allegation.
A spokesman for the South Bend Police Department told HuffPost that Newton’s testimony was just one of several during an internal affairs investigation and added: “The assertions presented were determined to be ‘not sustained’ at the conclusion of the investigation.”
With Buttigieg’s return to South Bend, some focus has shifted toward the implications that his handling of the situation as mayor might have on his presidential campaign.
According to the Washington Post, the presidential candidate has been attempting to shed past criticism for a 2015 address in which he said “all lives matter,” a phrase often used to counter the Black Lives Matter movement, which sought to highlight police violence on people of color. Buttigieg later said he was unaware at the time that the phrase was used in such a manner. As he now tries to build confidence with black voters, his response to this incident will be highly scrutinized.
A spokesman from Buttigieg’s presidential campaign told HuffPost he had canceled his upcoming events this week to become involved and to be with the South Bend community at this time.
“I know that whenever an incident like this happens, there is tremendous hurt that can come about,” Buttigieg said on Sunday. “That the city will be hurting.”
SBPD did not immediately respond to a request for O’Neill to comment.
“As a man and as an officer, he needs to man up to what he’s done,” Tyree Bonds, Logan’s brother said on Monday. “Accept his consequences, just like we’re gonna accept it. Our brother is dead.”
Andy Campbell contributed reporting.