Like Tuesday’s rain, word of trouble trickled into South Bend Police headquarters; news that one of its own was in a bind yet again.
Patrolman Jeff McKee, 33, of LaPorte, was hired by the South Bend Police Department in March of 2007. His first four years on the job went without a single reprimand. Yet in the last 23 months, McKee has been arrested twice for drunk driving, and written-up for multiple life-threatening violations while on-duty.
Like most employers, the SBPD can issue warnings for first, second, and in certain circumstances, third offenses.
Of course hindsight being 20/20, the red flags surrounding officer McKee are plain as day. However in the moment, supervisors and loved ones often miss steady changes in character, before it's all too late.
In this case, the first warning sign surfaced during a traffic stop on March 12, 2011. Ptl. McKee had pulled over a vehicle with two men inside, both of which were soon arrested. One individual had a suspended driver’s license and was booked at the St. Joseph County Jail. The other, a juvenile, had an outstanding warrant and was taken to the Juvenile Justice Center.
Within the confines of the JJC, staff members found a silver handgun in the teenage suspect's jacket, located near his armpit.
A three week internal investigation determined McKee failed to locate the gun during his traffic stop pat down. Former Police Chief Daryl Boykins consequently suspended McKee for one day without pay, and ordered he undergo remedial training.
“Due to your lack of attention to detail, you put a fellow officer and the JJC staff in grave danger. This type of police work could have cost you your life or the lives of others and is not excusable," Boykins said in a written reprimand to McKee (disciplinary report attached above).
Fast forward now to May 12, 2012 and a dramatic emergency call to South Bend’s 911 Center; one with Cpl. McKee seated at the very center once again.
Caller: "There's a police accident right here.”
South Bend Dispatcher: "There's a what?"
Caller: "Brookfield and Huron, Brookfield and Huron, come on right now, there's a police accident."
South Bend Dispatcher: "There's a police accident?"
Caller: "Yeah there's a cop involved right now."
South Bend Dispatcher: "Is he okay?"
Caller: "Nah the car has flipped over. Get over here right now, there's a police officer involved."
A crash investigation found McKee was off-duty responding to a medical call on the city’s southwest side. Problem is he drove against traffic on S. Brookfield St., a one-way roadway, without his squad car’s lights or sirens activated.
As McKee traveled north on S. Brookfield St., a 1996 Chevy Lumina driving west on Huron St., T-boned the officer’s 2007 Chevy Impala. The sudden impact flipped McKee’s vehicle upside down, causing more than $14,000 in damage. McKee, who was not seat-belted at the time, had to be extricated and taken to the hospital for head injuries.
A month-long internal affairs investigation found while McKee was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, he was in violation of the South Bend Police Department Duty Mutual. Section 302.00 states, “Officers shall operate department vehicles in a careful and prudent manner and shall obey state laws or department orders pertaining to such operation.”
That guideline led then Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley to suspend McKee for two days without pay, and issue a letter of reprimand (disciplinary report attached above).
For the next five months, Ptl. McKee’s personnel file sat untouched. That was until the early morning hours of Oct. 22, 2012. Around 2:47 a.m., the LaPorte County 911 Center received a call about a silver Dodge Charger driving erratically, slowing down and speeding up, along State Road 2. A LaPorte County Sherriff’s Department deputy spotted the vehicle near the intersection of State Road 2 and U.S. 20 and quickly activated a traffic stop.
Seated behind the wheel of the vehicle was Ptl. McKee. He told the deputy he drank a few beers at a friend’s house following his evening police shift. However, the deputy noted McKee eyes were “glassy, red and blood shot.” He also smelled a strong odor of alcohol coming from the car, prompting the deputy to call for backup.
What followed were three field sobriety tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Nine Step Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand. According to the arrest report, McKee failed all three. He then submitted to a portable breath test and blew a .13%, more than 1.5 times the legal limit in Indiana and Michigan.
McKee was booked at the LaPorte County Jail and later charged with an OWI, a Class C misdemeanor, and issued a ticket for Unsafe Lane Movement.
In December, the embattled officer took a plea deal with the LaPorte County Prosecutor’s Office, admitting to reckless driving, a reduced misdemeanor charge.
Just last Wednesday, McKee went before the South Bend Board of Public Safety for his October OWI arrest. The five member board unanimously agreed to suspend the 33-year-old for 21 days without pay, and revoked his take-home squad car privileges for two years (arrest report and disciplinary findings attached above).
Four days later, a LaPorte city policeman was working Operation Pullover DUI patrol. While driving along the 600 block of Pine Lake Ave., the officer passed a Silver Dodge Charger with its hazard lights on, driving with a flat, shredded and smoking rear driver’s side tire.
The officer made a U-turn and stopped the car in the Best Western Plus Hotel parking lot, the driver was Jeff McKee. Standing on the bitter cold blacktop, McKee allegedly stumbled around and quietly slurred to the cop, "Man, I'm a South Bend police officer." When asked why he was driving on a smoking flat tire, McKee said, “It’s been like that for several days.”
Lawman to lawman, McKee reportedly failed another set of three sobriety tests and was re-booked at the LaPorte County Jail on suspicion of OWI, and cited for Driving While Suspended. Once in custody, McKee blew a .24%, that's three times the legal limit in Indiana and Michigan (arrest report attached above).
NewsCenter 16 stopped by McKee's LaPorte home for a comment. Despite a lamp turned on inside, no one answered the door or returned our phone calls.
South Bend Police Chief Ronald Teachman also declined an on-camera interview or written statement, citing the mounting severity of this employee matter.
Neighbors say McKee served two tours in Iraq and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They allege the U.S. Military and Veterans Affairs have turned a blind eye on McKee, leaving the recently divorced father of two alone in his battle with internal demons.
With a suspended driver’s license, multiple arrests and history of write-ups, it’s very unlikely McKee will manage to keep his job. However, the South Bend Police Department and Board of Public Safety have yet to hold a public hearing on the matter.