South Bend Tribune, Ind.
Jun. 10—SOUTH BEND — Indiana State Police detectives have launched a criminal investigation after a hidden recording device was found in locker room used by female firefighters at a South Bend fire station last week.
The investigation comes two months after South Bend Fire Department’s 12 female members sent a letter to the fire chief and mayor’s office demanding city leaders address what they say is a longstanding culture of sexual harassment and discrimination within the fire department.
The county’s Special Victims Unit learned about the “potential recording device” on June 1, according to Jessica McBrier, a spokeswoman for St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter. Because some South Bend police officers are assigned to the SVU, the prosecutor’s office asked state police to investigate.
“Generally, that would be an investigation our Special Victims Unit would handle, but because we have South Bend Police Department officers at the Special Victims Unit, to avoid the appearance of impropriety, they asked the Indiana State Police to handle the Investigation,” McBrier said.
The prosecutor’s office and the Indiana State Police did not say which fire station the recording device was found in, saying only that the investigation is ongoing.
“Once a complete and thorough investigation has been done, all information will be handed over to the prosecutor’s office for review,” said Sgt. Ted Bohner, a spokesman for Indiana State Police, in a written statement.
South Bend Fire Chief Carl Buchanon did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment and an assistant directed inquiries to a spokesman for Mayor James Mueller. Spokesman Caleb Bauer said he would alert the mayor to the request.
The incident with the hidden camera comes on the heels of allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination within the fire department made by female members of the force. In April, all 12 female firefighters wrote a letter to the mayor’s office, Buchanon and the Board of Public Safety expressing anger that a South Bend fire captain was given a “slap on the wrist” after he allegedly verbally harassed and hit a female firefighter on the head in December at Station 8 in Twyckenham Hills. She said he also blocked her from leaving the confrontation.
“You have failed us,” states the letter. “The fire department administration, the city, and the Board of Public Safety have failed the women of the South Bend Fire Department. We come to work expecting a workplace free of harassment and violence, yet when it occurs it is treated like a slap on the wrist, even when the accused captain freely admits to the actions … and this was his third offense!”
The captain received 24 hours of unpaid leave on Buchanon’s recommendation, according to Board of Public Safety records. The records make no mention of physical contact or blocking the firefighter’s escape.
Tribune reporter Jeff Parrott contributed to this story.
Email Marek Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek.
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