Tensions still high over South Bend police chief investigation

It started with a question: Did South Bend’s chief of police do his job when a fight broke out at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in April 2012.

After an independent investigation by the Indiana State Police, Mayor Pete Buttigieg decided Chief Ron Teachman did nothing wrong. However, the officer Teachman is accused of failing to back up came out this week asking the common council to use its subpoena powers to obtain a copy of the ISP’s report about the incident.

The former president of the South Bend Board of Public Safety resigned after the mayor decided to keep the report confidential. Now the former president, Pat Cottrell, says he wants the information he read in the report to be made public.

“If I got a subpoena and I was under oath, I would answer the questions asked of me,” Cottrell said.

Buttigieg’s office released a statement in response to Cottrell today saying: “The Mayor outlined the facts when he announced his decision—a decision that concurred with the majority of the Board of Public Safety. The City has a uniformly-applied policy not to release details of personnel matters, except as required by law. Making one exception because of political pressure would set a troubling precedent.”

But Cottrell said it isn’t about precedent, it’s about getting information out to the public that they should know.

“All I have to say is if the mayor did the right thing this whole situation would be behind us but he didn’t. So that's why it’s still an issue,” Cottrell added.

South Bend Common Council President, Derek Dieter, said the council is working with legal counsel to determine if it’s within its powers to subpoena Cottrell and conduct an investigative hearing. Legally, the council does have the power to issue subpoenas. However, that authority may be subordinate to the mayor’s authority over personnel matters.

Council member Dr. Fred Ferlic said he supports the mayor’s decision to keep the report private, “this serves as a side show and the tax payer of South bend wants us to address the real problems, public safety.” Ferlic added that every hearing or investigation the council conducts is fueled by tax payer dollars. He doesn’t see the point of spending the money when the council is also tackling budget issues.

The battle between parties and political players is a “tug of war” according to Ferlic, who wants to see the door shut on the issue altogether. On the other side of the table, Dieter supports Cottrell’s desire to make the information public.

Dieter said attorneys are looking into the line of demarcation between council and mayoral powers. It could take three weeks before the council finds out whether any legal steps can be taken.

“Whatever the facts pan out, that’s fine. Once again the citizens have a right to know when we get to this type of stuff,” Dieter explained, “what happened is there are too many things in South Bend that we don't know what happened and if you promote transparency daily, you have to be transparent.”

For now there doesn't seem to be a consensus on the council as to how members would vote on an investigative hearing. Some stand in support of the mayor, others want the report made public, while some say they need to hear what the lawyers have to say about the possible outcomes.

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