Faith leaders, officials call for independent investigation of police shooting in South Bend

South Bend Tribune Report
Jun 19, 2019

Photo caption: Sherika Logan lights candles for her uncle during a vigil for Eric Logan on Monday on Washington Street in South Bend. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)

Local faith leaders, community organizers and members of the South Bend Common Council are calling for an independent prosecutor to investigate Sunday’s fatal shooting of a black man by a South Bend police officer.

The St. Joseph County chapter of Faith in Indiana, composed of religious leaders and community activists across the state, says it wants to help “press for answers and for change.”

A leader of the St. Joseph County chapter, Andre Stoner, who also works for Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc., in South Bend, said the call for an independent prosecutor stems from a “lot of mistrust” in the local criminal justice system.

“That’s a reflection of how many people in the community, especially the African-American community, feel,” he said.

St. Joseph County’s Metro Homicide Unit, overseen by county Prosecutor Ken Cotter, is handling the investigation into whether criminal charges are warranted in the shooting death of Eric Logan, 54. Cotter’s office did not respond before deadline to an email, text and phone call seeking comment on whether it would be amenable to seeking an outside investigation by a special prosecutor.

An independent prosecutor is typically one brought in from an outside county to lead an investigation to help mitigate concerns about local bias. Cotter served as an independent prosecutor in 2017, in the death of Aaron Bailey, an unarmed black man who was shot by two Indianapolis police officers. Cotter ultimately decided not to file charges against the officers, saying there was insufficient evidence to refute the officers’ statements that they feared for their lives when they shot Bailey after a brief chase and car crash.

South Bend police officer Ryan O’Neill shot Logan early Sunday morning as the officer was following up on a report of car break-ins downtown.

O’Neill has said he confronted Logan in a parking lot and shot him after Logan came toward him with a knife. O’Neill did not have his body camera on.

Though no one has reached out to her yet on whether to seek an outside review of the shooting death, an independent investigation would give “a level of confidence in the process,” said Karen White, an at-large member of council.

Councilman Oliver Davis, who represents the 6th District, said he already has asked council’s attorney to draft letters seeking an independent investigation by a special prosecutor, the state police or even the Department of Justice that could be passed as a resolution or a letter signed by individual members of council. “This has touched a nerve throughout our whole entire community,” he said.

“It would be a benefit because it would help verify or shed light on what’s going on,” Davis said, adding that he thinks it would be worth the money even if the city had to pay for an investigation. “Justice does cost, but not having justice costs even more.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he’s open to the concept of an outside investigation.

Wendy Fultz, a South Bend resident and leader with Faith in Indiana, suggested that police perhaps need more training on how to de-escalate tense situations. “This man didn’t have to die,” she said in a release from the organization. “It’s like society does not consider black men human beings.”

Another member of the group, South Bend resident Jeff Walker, says in the release, “Why are we using this level of deadly force? Who determines whether someone is threatened?”

In addition to an independent prosecutor, Faith in Indiana is calling for:

  • A review of use-of-force policies and training for South Bend police.
  • Training for police to understand and recognize implicit, or unconscious, bias.
  • The implementation of Peacemaker Fellowships, a mentorship program aimed at getting those who face the highest risk of gun violence out of street life. The program would expand on the work by the city’s current Group Violence Intervention initiative. Stoner said Faith in Indiana was already working with city officials on implementing Peacemaker Fellowships. “We see this as a moment to strengthen the resolve and support” for the program, he said.

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Lori McLaughlin, Faith in IndianaSt. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter (photo: South Bend Tribune)