SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A former South Bend police officer who was cleared Friday in the 2019 shooting of a black man was arrested that same day on charges he solicited a prostitute while in uniform a month before the killing.
Former Sgt. Ryan Christopher O’Neill, 44, was booked on charges of public indecency, official misconduct and ghost employment, according to St. Joseph County Jail records. He has since been released on a $500 cash bond.
O’Neill resigned following the June 16, 2019, shooting of 54-year-old Eric Jack Logan. O’Neill claimed Logan brandished and threw a knife at him as he investigated car break-ins in the parking lot of the Central High Apartments.
The shooting roiled race relations in South Bend, where then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg had launched his campaign for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination. Before dropping out of the race March 1, Buttigieg faced widespread criticism over what has been described as systemic racism within the city’s police force.
Logan’s fatal shooting was a factor in that criticism.
O’Neill, who was on the police force for more than 19 years, had also been accused by two fellow officers of making inappropriate remarks in 2009, according to the South Bend Tribune. According to the complaint, a former lieutenant alleged O’Neill made racist comments about a biracial couple and talked about Muslims in “derogatory terms,” the newspaper said.
Those allegations against O’Neill came out in a federal lawsuit filed by a female colleague who sued after she was passed over for a promotion that O’Neill and two others received instead. In her lawsuit, former officer Joy Phillips pointed to O’Neill’s past indiscretions as evidence that she should have been promoted instead.
Though Phillips ultimately won her lawsuit, the allegations against O’Neill were “not sustained” during the city’s internal investigation,” the Tribune reported.
‘Tell the truth!’
Special prosecutor Ric Hertel on Friday held a news conference in which he detailed the findings of his investigation into the shooting, which was aided by the Indiana State Police. Hertel, the Ripley County prosecutor, was appointed by a judge to review the case after St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter recused himself to “avoid the appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest.”
Hertel ultimately found that criminal prosecution of O’Neill for Logan’s killing was not possible.
“The use of deadly force by Sgt. O’Neill was justified based upon the threat and imminent danger presented by the sharp-edged knife in the right hand of Mr. Logan,” Hertel wrote in a now-public report on the probe.
He reiterated at Friday’s news conference that “self-defense applies to everyone in this room, including those in uniform. There is no duty to retreat in Indiana. Self-defense is a complete defense.” The prosecutor explained that law enforcement officers in Indiana are afforded a second line of defense on top of the self-defense that applies to all, including civilians.
Hertel was interrupted several times by protesters at the news conference.
“Tell the truth! A police officer killed my brother,” one woman shouted before being escorted from the room.
Watch the entire news conference below, courtesy of WSBT. Warning: The video contains graphic language.
Logan was described in his obituary as a “hardworking father” who held “gainful employment with Elkhart Plastic & CTDI.”
“Family came first,” the obituary read. “He enjoyed time with his children and grandchildren.”
Logan’s family has disputed police claims that he was breaking into cars the morning of his death and that he threatened O’Neill with a knife. No footage exists of the confrontation and shooting, despite O’Neill being equipped with both body and dashboard cameras.
Logan’s autopsy report indicated he was intoxicated and had traces of cocaine and THC in his system when he died. His blood alcohol concentration was 0.143, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08.
O’Neill and the department have faced deep criticism from activists who have questioned why the officer’s body and dashboard cameras had not been turned on prior to his interaction with Logan. Authorities previously said the cameras did not get activated because O’Neill had not turned his emergency lights, to which they are connected.
Critics have also questioned whether O’Neill fired at Logan before or after Logan threw the knife, pointing out that if it was afterward, O’Neill shot an unarmed man.
According to the Star, Hertel on Friday acknowledged the uncertainty of when the shots were fired but said it didn’t matter. The prosecutor said, “There’s someone with a knife coming toward a police officer (and) he is allowed” to defend himself, the newspaper reported.
“You were hired to do absolutely nothing,” one protester in the crowd said, according to the Star.
“The only thing that’s clear is you were hired to stand up here and tell us lies,” another shouted.
An ATM and a funeral home parking lot
According to a probable cause affidavit in O’Neill’s prostitution case, Indiana State Police detectives stumbled upon those allegations while investigating Logan’s fatal shooting.
Personnel records indicated that O’Neill was on duty, in uniform and driving a South Bend police cruiser the morning of May 16, 2019, when he had an encounter with a prostitute, called Jane Doe in the affidavit.
Doe told investigators she was “walking the street, trying to make money,” when O’Neill pulled up alongside her and solicited her services. She got into his patrol car and they drove to an ATM, according to the court document.
“Jane Doe stated that she tried to get $50 from him but ‘he was cheap’ and would only give her $20,” the affidavit said.
Read the probable cause affidavit for O’Neill’s arrest below.
The woman told investigators they drove to the area of a large tree, where O’Neill had her pull her underwear down. Doe said O’Neill then masturbated onto her buttocks and, when he was done, drove her home.
The officer, whose face she said she saw clearly, called himself “Officer Ryan,” the affidavit said. She later identified him as O’Neill.
State investigators reviewed the GPS system data for O’Neill’s patrol car, which backed the woman’s story, the court document said.
“The Availweb GPS System shows that Ryan O’Neill was in the parking lot of the McGann Hay Funeral Home at approximately 2:47 a.m. on May 16, 2019,” the affidavit said. “A short distance (steps) from the parking lot is a wooded area, including large trees accessible to the public.”
Personnel records showed O’Neill was on duty at the time of the incident and security footage from the ATM showed the patrol car he was driving at the bank that early morning.
The driver withdrew cash from the machine. A female passenger could be seen sitting in the back seat of the car.
Death of Eric Logan
It was again in the early morning hours when, exactly a month later, a witness called 911 to report someone with a flashlight going from car to car in the South Bend Central High School Apartments’ parking lot and busting out car windows.
Police officers were dispatched to the parking lot at 3:27 a.m. and O’Neill reported arriving on the scene three minutes later, Hertel’s report stated.
According to the records, O’Neill was driving the same patrol car in which he’d allegedly picked up Jane Doe the month before.
O’Neill told investigators he drove slowly through the rows of parked cars, looking for signs of burglary. As he reached a black Honda, he spotted “a pair of legs and buttocks sticking out of the (car’s) open driver’s door,” the document said.
Hertel wrote that O’Neill confronted the person, later identified as Logan, about whether the vehicle was his. Logan said it was.
O’Neill said Logan stood up, at which point he spotted a beige purse sticking out of Logan’s coat. Logan’s right hand was cut and he was holding a napkin to the wound, the document said.
Logan also had a large knife in his hand, O’Neill told detectives. Hertel displayed a poster-sized photo of the knife at Friday’s news conference.
“After seeing the knife, Sgt. O’Neill unholstered his weapon, pointed it at Mr. Logan and ordered him to drop the knife,” the report said. “At this point, Sgt. O’Neill and Mr. Logan were approximately 8 to 10 feet apart from each other.”
Though there is no footage to back his claims, O’Neill said Logan failed to comply with repeated orders to drop the knife. The officer said Logan instead raised the knife, “made a grunting noise” and began walking toward him.
O’Neill said he continued ordering Logan to drop the knife until Logan had him backed up close to his patrol car.
“Sgt. O’Neill indicated that he was in fear for his life and fired two shots from his pistol at Mr. Logan,” the report said. “After the shots were fired, Mr. Logan stopped advancing and threw his knife at Sgt. O’Neill. The knife struck Sgt. O’Neill in the left forearm, resulting in a red abrasion.”
Read Special Prosecutor Ric Hertel’s report on the death of Eric Logan below.
O’Neill told detectives he was unsure at first if he had struck Logan because he remained standing and had little reaction to the gunfire. He said he no longer considered Logan a threat, because he had thrown the knife, and ordered Logan to his knees. This time, he complied, O’Neill said.
O’Neill called for an ambulance and he and four additional officers who arrived as backup located a gunshot wound on Logan’s torso, the report said.
Instead of waiting for an ambulance, the officers performed a “load and go,” in which they placed Logan in a patrol car and drove him to a hospital less than a mile away.
Logan was rushed into surgery to repair wounds to his gallbladder and liver, but he died in surgery at 9:50 a.m. that day.
Evidence against Logan
Following the shooting, Hertel wrote, detectives learned that the black Honda did not belong to Logan and he did not have permission to be in the car. The purse he was carrying, as well as the knife in his hand, were found to be stolen from other vehicles that had been broken into.
“The recovered knife was consistent with Sgt. O’Neill’s description and its tip was broken off, consistent with it having been used to force entry into vehicles,” the report said.
According to Hertel, ballistics experts determined that the path of the bullet that struck Logan was consistent with O’Neill’s statements that he was advancing toward the officer when he was shot.
Forensic analysis of Logan’s cellphone, which was recovered from the scene, also showed photos of car radios and entertainment systems that were removed from vehicles and conversations pertaining to the apparent sale of similar equipment.
“This analysis, coupled with Mr. Logan being located leaning into someone else’s car and in possession of items taken from other people’s cars, support the likelihood Mr. Logan was engaged in the breaking and entering of vehicles to steal from them,” Hertel wrote.
Logan was also being sought on an arrest warrant for a probation violation when he was killed, the report said.
Brian Coffman, an attorney for Logan’s family who last year filed a federal lawsuit against O’Neill and the city of South Bend, said Friday that he was not surprised by the lack of criminal charges in the shooting. According to the Star, however, Coffman said the Hertel’s report “shows serious discrepancies on what occurred that night.”
Coffman pointed to a lack of DNA evidence found on the knife or cars that were broken into.
The attorney also told reporters that the charges filed against O’Neill in the prostitution incident “call into question his credibility,” the newspaper reported.
Under Indiana law, public indecency is a Class A misdemeanor. Official misconduct and ghost employment, which is described as “engaging in, or directing others to engage in, work other than the performance of official duties during working hours,” are both Level 6 felonies.
O’Neill faces up to a year in jail on the misdemeanor if convicted. Level 6 felonies, the lowest level felony in Indiana, carry up to two and a half years in prison.