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Shout-downs, heckles and profanity: Buttigieg faces testy town hall after officer-involved shooting

NBC News logo NBC News 6/24/2019 Josh Lederman and Allan Smith

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SOUTH BEND, Indiana — South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was peppered with tough questions Sunday as he sat alongside the city's police chief at a town hall event following a white police officer shooting a black man to death one week prior.

Buttigieg was repeatedly shouted down and met with profanities and heckles as he spoke during the extremely tense and emotional town hall meeting at a local high school about last weekend's shooting.

The shooting took place when South Bend police responded to a report of a suspicious person going through cars at an apartment complex. When South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O’Neill, engaged with the suspect, 53-year-old Eric Jack Logan, Logan allegedly approached the officer with a knife. The officer then fired at Logan, who was taken to a hospital and soon after was pronounced dead. The officer was treated for minor injuries.

It was later revealed that O'Neill's body camera was not running during the encounter and O’Neill failed to turn it on at any point. The incident is now under investigation by the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office, and O'Neill has been placed on administrative leave.

Buttigieg and South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski took questions for nearly two hours, with attendees pointedly asking about the failures of the police officer's body camera.

Buttigieg acknowledged that two of his initiatives — implementing body cameras for officers and diversifying the police force — have not yet been successful.

Asked about the failure of the body cameras, he said, "If anybody is trying to figure out who to hold responsible, the administration bought the technology, hired the officer and wrote the policy."

"So at the end of the day, I'm responsible," Buttigieg said.

But he also said, "I can't accept the suggestion that we haven't done anything."

Buttigieg also made news in announcing he will write to the Justice Department to say he agrees that a civil rights division review of the shooting should occur, adding that he can’t promise that DOJ will do one.

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The town hall quickly descended into chaos, with attendees shouting in each other’s faces and at the local NAACP chapter president, who tried in vain to calm the crowd by imploring them to “walk in love one to another."

“You are lying,” one attendee shouted at Buttigieg. “We don’t trust you,” said another.

Buttigieg displayed a few flashes of frustration as he was repeatedly interrupted, admonishing crowd to let him finish speaking and return to their seats.

The incident comes amid already-high tensions in South Bend over policing. Earlier in Buttigieg's term, he demoted the city's first black police chief, Darryl Boykins, who had ordered the taping of phone calls of senior police officers he alleged made racist comments about him. Buttigieg said he demoted Boykins because he failed to disclose that the FBI was investigating him for allegedly inappropriately wiretapping subordinates. The demotion sparked a wave of criticism from the city's black community, and Boykins' name was brought up multiple times during the town hall.

Boykins sued the city after his 2012 demotion, alleging racial discrimination and saying the taping scandal was used as a pretext for his ouster. Meanwhile, the South Bend Common Council has pushed to make public the secretly recorded tapes of police officers allegedly making racist comments.

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