One after another, speakers at a town hall meeting Tuesday in Elkhart criticized the city’s Police Department after recent revelations about officers who beat a handcuffed man and the disciplinary records of the agency’s supervisors.
The town hall was the third public forum hosted by the mayor in a week, each one dominated by talk of the police. Last week, the South Bend Tribune and ProPublica reported that 28 of the department’s 34 supervisors, including Police Chief Ed Windbigler, had been previously disciplined. Fifteen have been suspended. Seven have been involved in at least one fatal shooting. Early this month, the news organizations published video of two officers punching a suspect in the face in the police station’s detention area.
Most of the speakers Tuesday wanted to talk about the beating — and what happened afterward. Windbigler issued written reprimands to officers Cory Newland and Joshua Titus five months after the fact, and he described their actions to a civilian oversight board as going “a little overboard,” with no mention of the punches thrown. Only after The Tribune requested the video did the city announce this month that the officers would face criminal charges. The video shows two other officers — including Sgt. Drew Neese, the son of Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese — looking on as the handcuffed suspect is beaten.
“They should have been fired on the spot,” one man told the mayor during Tuesday’s meeting. “And, with respect to you, sir, your own son should be, too.”
While a few speakers defended the police, saying they put their lives on the line for the good of the community, one man asked the mayor, “Why does the trust in the chief remain?” He asked Neese if he contested anything in the recent story by The Tribune and ProPublica about the department’s supervisors, including one who was promoted to sergeant after having been disciplined more than two dozen times.
At that, Todd Thayer, the Police Department’s assistant chief, spoke up from the back of the room, saying he wanted to respond to the question. He walked to the front and, for the next 10 minutes, defended his officers and attacked the media.
Thayer described the department’s reaction when it started receiving public records requests from a Tribune reporter: “Who is this guy? … What’s all this digging? And it’s just, request after request after request.” Thayer said the police went to the city’s legal department and asked:
“Does anybody know what’s going on? Everything’s going good in Elkhart. Why are they coming over here, into our backyard, and trying to disrupt everything we built?”