The wiretapping fallout at South Bend's police department has now evolved into an allegation the mayor demoted the police chief and others because of their race. But is there any truth to those allegations?
Demoted Police Chief Darryl Boykins’ attorney confirmed to WSBT “the three highest ranking African American employees in the city” mentioned in the tort claim notice he filed on Boykins’ behalf are his client, former mayor Steve Luecke’s assistant Lynn Coleman and retired South Bend Fire Chief Howard Buchanon. The notice also claims Boykins’ demotion was racially motivated.
“In this short period of time the mayor's actions with regard to the leadership in the African American community have been hard to understand, hard to explain,” Boykins' attorney, Thomas Dixon, told WSBT in a phone interview.
But WSBT tracked down Coleman and Buchanon Wednesday to get answers directly from them.
Buchanon said he realized he was one of “the three highest ranking African American employees” mentioned in the notice when he read the newspaper Wednesday morning.
“I was scheduled to retire and when my retirement time came, [I] could put in [notice with the city] if I wanted to stay. And I chose that maybe I wanted to stay,” Buchanon said. “And [Buttigieg] interviewed me and they decided to choose Steven Cox, which is a good choice. That's the political realm. He has the right to chose whoever he wants.”
When asked whether he believed Buttigieg’s decision was racially motivated, Buchanon said he did not.
“I never thought of it in that realm. But now, the way everything is coming out, you kind of think maybe? I still don't think so because he has a right to chose who he wants,” he insisted.
When reached by phone, Coleman said he never expected to stay on with the Buttigieg administration.
“Mine was a political move. I don’t know what his motive was for getting rid of me,” he told WSBT.
On Wednesday the mayor’s communications director, Debra Johnson, said Buttigieg was not available for an on-camera interview but said, “Safety has no color. The mayor has made his decision based on what's best for protecting the city."
When asked about how staffing decisions were made when Buttigieg took office, Johnson said it’s general protocol that when a new administration comes in, new personnel is brought in as well.
Dixon said he doesn’t know with 100 percent certainty that there was racial discrimination because he has not yet gone through all the legal steps to build his case. Those steps include what’s called discovery – part of the pre-trial litigation process that includes gathering facts and information to discover pertinent facts.
If the city does not respond to the tort claim notice within the 90 day timeframe and Dixon moves forward with a lawsuit, he would then begin those legal steps, he added.
Mayor Buttigeig told WSBT on Thursday morning he owes the citizens of South Bend to always have the best possible person for the job, and says he will always do that with an eye toward the importance of diversity.