By Jeff Parrott | South Bend Tribune
June 16, 2020
Caption: South Bend Mayor James Mueller, right, speaks at a press conference with South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski on Monday at Howard Park in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
SOUTH BEND — South Bend Mayor James Mueller said Monday that later this week he will release a police officer discipline matrix, the department will ban choke holds, and he’ll ask a consultant when the city can release its recommendations for police reforms called for after the officer killing of Eric Logan a year ago.
Mueller made the announcements at a news conference at the Howard Park Event Center, after the common council’s release Friday of a letter sharply criticizing his handling of the issues. The council has tabled Mueller’s request to give police officers a 2.5% pay raise, on top of the 2% raise they’re already receiving this year, until it has more time to discuss the proposal.
The council wants to make sure the city budget, expected to take a major hit because of the coronavirus pandemic, can afford the extra raises, which Mueller says are needed to reduce an officer shortage. But the council also first wants to see action on the reforms, according to the six-page letter, signed by council Democrats, who make up eight of nine members.
Mueller declined the council’s request to withdraw his police pay raise bill, prompting the council to table it until a yet-to-be-scheduled committee meeting. On June 8, activists opposed to the pay raise staged a protest outside the home of then-council President Tim Scott.
“Your refusal to delay this proposal and allow the council to do its due diligence has brought havoc and division,” the letter states. “We need you to repair that division. Members of the council were disappointed by your inability to provide a timeline on the reforms discussed through much of last fall and winter. You MUST end the talk and enact some of the reform measures to which you and the previous administration committed together with other possible reforms that we are now acutely aware are needed.”
The developments come amid a national wave of protests and calls for police reforms, following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds before he died. Three other officers watched and knelt on Floyd’s back.
The matrix, sought by clergy leaders belonging to the group Faith in Indiana, would set up clearer guidelines on the types of punishments for officers who commit misconduct. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg introduced the concept late last year before leaving office, but Mueller in January asked the board to table the discussion, saying more time was needed for community feedback.
Joining Mueller at the news conference was Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski and Michael Patton, the city’s diversity and inclusion officer. In his first publicly spoken words about the George Floyd case, Ruszkowski called it a “horror.”
“Any cop that thinks or relishes in this idea that what we saw was acceptable needs to turn in their badge right now, and those who know officers that may feel that way, need to tell us so that we can take their badge from them,” Ruszkowski said.
Regarding choke holds, Ruszkowski said, “In my 32 years we have never taught it, never trained it, never used it. However we never had the words in our policy that specifically said you couldn’t do choke holds, strangleholds, carotids, whatever vernacular that is used concerning a choke hold, so it will be added to our Use of Force Policy.”
Mueller wouldn’t specify when this week he’ll release a draft of the discipline matrix, but he said the city’s Board of Public Safety will consider approval at its July 15 meeting.
After the news conference, members of Faith in Indiana, the clergy group that has called for a discipline matrix for at least five years, reacted positively.
Alfred Guillaume, a parishioner of St. Augustine Catholic Church and Faith in Indiana member, said he’s pleased Mueller has taken this “first step.”
“He’s sent a message to the Black community and all South Bend residents that he recognizes that the Black people in this community have been in pain for a long time,” Guillaume said. “We’ve been seeking justice, fairness, a place at the table. It’s a recognition that there have been wrongs done to the Black community. Across this country we’ve had serial killings of Black men by police. That has to stop.”
Mueller also vowed to pursue public release of a report by 21CP Solutions, a Chicago-based policing consultant hired last year by the Buttigieg administration to recommend reforms after white officer Sgt. Ryan O’Neill, who didn’t have his body camera activated, fatally shot Logan while police said Logan had been burglarizing cars parked in the Central High School Apartments lot. Buttigieg had initially said he hoped to see the report before he left office at the end of the year.
“We are continuing to work with 21CP to identify a time when they can come and present their recommendations to the community,” Mueller said. “’We will announce that date as soon as it’s set.”