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Stung by Controversies, Police Chief Resigns in Elkhart, Indiana

Ed Windbigler’s resignation as chief follows a videotaped beating of a handcuffed man and reports by the South Bend Tribune and ProPublica that he had promoted officers with disciplinary histories.

This article was produced in partnership with the South Bend Tribune a member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

Elkhart, Indiana, Police Chief Ed Windbigler announced his resignation Monday after recent reports by the South Bend Tribune and ProPublica about disciplinary issues in the city’s Police Department and a video that showed two officers beating a handcuffed man.

In a letter addressed to members of the Elkhart Police Department, Windbigler said Mayor Tim Neese contacted him on Sunday and asked him to resign.

“I admit that I am not perfect and have made mistakes, but I always tried to make sure we were making decisions that would be best for the department,” Windbigler said in the letter.

Last month, the mayor suspended Windbigler for 30 days without pay after the release of a video showing two officers repeatedly punching a handcuffed man in the police station after he tried to spit on one of them. Windbigler downplayed the severity of the incident at an oversight commission meeting in June and reprimanded the officers. But after the Tribune requested a copy of the video, the officers were criminally charged with misdemeanor battery.

Neese said he suspended Windbigler because of the chief’s “failure to promptly notify” the mayor of the videotaped beating, and for “understating the severity” of the misconduct of the two officers.

Also last month, the Tribune and ProPublica reported how disciplinary actions under the chief had dropped sharply since he took the position in 2016 and how most of the department’s supervisors have prior disciplinary records. During his tenure, Windbigler promoted 18 supervisors with disciplinary records.

Neese has said he will ask for an independent review of the Police Department, looking at officers’ use of force and disciplinary matters. The mayor said he had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a review, but received no response to three requests.

Last week, the Tribune and ProPublica published a story about an officer who was promoted by Windbigler despite a drunken-driving conviction. The city’s Police Merit Commission, which is supposed to sign off on promotions, was not made aware of the conviction or the promotion, until after the Tribune began asking questions about the matter.

In his resignation letter, Windbigler wrote that Neese had told him on “two different occasions” during the suspension that “he did not want me to quit.”

But on Sunday, Windbigler said, “the Mayor contacted me and stated that he wanted me to resign. So, with that said, I want to let all of you know that I will be leaving.”

The chief noted “the intense scrutiny of the media and politicians” in recent weeks.

In a press release late Monday night, Neese said: “This was a difficult decision, and after much consideration, I have decided to seek new leadership of the Elkhart Police Department. I appreciate Ed’s service to the police department and our community, and I wish him the very best.”

The press release said Todd Thayer, who was assistant chief under Windbigler, will continue as interim chief until a replacement is named.

The South Bend Tribune and ProPublica are investigating criminal justice issues in Elkhart County, Indiana. If you have a story to share, please email us at [email protected].

Christian Sheckler covers criminal justice for the South Bend Tribune. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jcsheckler.

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Ken Armstrong

Ken Armstrong is a reporter at ProPublica.

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