A special prosecutor was requested Monday to investigate the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in a case that has inflamed tensions between the black community and law enforcement and roiled the Democratic presidential campaign of Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
St. Joseph County Prosecutor Kenneth Cotter filed a petition asking a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the June 16 shooting of 54-year-old Eric Logan by South Bend police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill. It comes a day after Buttigieg said he would write the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and notify Cotter that he'd like an independent investigator appointed.
Cotter's petition also revealed that O'Neill had been accused of making "inappropriate racial remarks" as a patrol officer 11 years ago. The South Bend Fraternal Order of Police, which represents local officers including O'Neill, issued a statement Monday saying that it supports O'Neill and accusing Buttigieg of "driving a wedge between law enforcement officers and the community they took an oath to serve."
Buttigieg, who has surged from obscurity to become a top-tier 2020 presidential candidate, left the campaign trail for several days to deal with fallout from the June 16 shooting. He faced criticism Sunday from angry residents of South Bend at an emotional town hall meeting, where some community members questioned whether he had done enough to reform the police department in his two terms as mayor. Buttigieg created controversy during his first term when he fired the city's black police chief.
The mayor praised the prosecutor's decision to request an independent investigator.
"I respect and support Prosecutor Cotter's decision to seek an outside, special prosecutor to investigate the circumstances of Eric Logan's death," Buttigieg said in a statement Monday. "Our community is in anguish, and for all of us to come to terms with what happened, it is vital that the investigation be fair, thorough, and impartial."
The shooting occurred after O'Neill responded to a call about a suspicious person going through vehicles, Cotter has said. O'Neill spotted Logan leaning inside a car. When confronted, Logan approached O'Neill with a 6- to 8-inch knife raised over his head, the prosecutor said. O'Neill fired twice, with one shot hitting a car door. The shooting was not recorded by the officer's body camera.
Cotter's petition requests a special prosecutor to "avoid any appearance of impropriety, conflict of interest or influence upon the ultimate prosecutorial decision to be made."
The petition also noted his chief investigator, Dave Newton, was a South Bend police lieutenant in 2008 while O'Neill was a patrol officer and had filed a report at the time quoting two other officers "that voiced a concern of inappropriate racial remarks made by Ryan O'Neill."
It wasn't clear whether O'Neill received any department discipline as a result of the report.
Buttigieg has said internal affairs investigated, and the report "was found not to be sustained."