When a white uniformed cop hassled a black man at an Indiana homeless camp, he assumed he was one of them. In fact, Raymond Barbour was a skilled, taxpaying welder who was spending his Sunday afternoon under a bridge feeding the homeless.
That didn’t matter to South Bend Police Officer Erik Schlegelmilch.
Schlegelmilch on Sept. 18 positioned his squad car along a road that had been under construction and passed under a bridge. The area had become a homeless encampment and was located in the center of town on South Main Street.
He took several photos of the penniless men and women sheltering in donated tents and lining up for a hot lunch at around noon. The lawman, with 16 years on the beat, argued with Barbour before driving off and then returning minutes later to the opposite side of the bridge.
Then Schlegelmilch exited his car and snapped in a raspy smoker’s voice: “You want to play a game?”
Schlegelmilch didn’t know who he was up against. Barbour’s a 37-year-old native son of South Bend who struggled with homelessness as a child, but grew up to be a welder and father of seven daughters.
“I’m not homeless by a longs hot,” he told The Daily Beast this week. “I got a home to go to and these people don’t, so why you talking to them like that?”
Indeed, Barbour’s $30,000 truck was parked up the road, loaded with water and home-cooked meals.
The menu that day was chicken stew, rice, and biscuits, according to John Winston Jr., who heads the JDubbs Helping the Homeless group and whose volunteers like Barbour happened to have squared off against the mouthy South Bend cop.
And when he spotted the cop taking photos, Barbour simply asked him to lend a hand.
“I told him, ‘Excuse me sir, instead of taking pictures, how about you help me pass out some of this food and water I brung out for these people?’”
But the patrolman apparently told Barbour: “Get your bum selves out of here… Nobody wants you down here!”
Winston remains furious by the police officer’s “bullying, harassing, and shaming” of his volunteers like Barbour, but he is concerned that the cop acted disrespectfully even though he was clearly being recorded.
“That’s the scary part of it,” he said. “If he thought he could do that to the ‘homeless people’ and there’s cameras around then what does he do when there’s no cameras around?”
Fellow volunteer Charles Smith painted it as “not your normal police stop.”
“He was looking to escalate the situation,” said the waiter who grew up homeless and whose mom he says still lives on the streets in L.A.’s Skid Row.
Smith pulled out his phone to document the incident soon after the cop’s temper sparked.
“There was no justification for [Off. Schlegelmilch] to come back around,” Smith said. “I wanted to make sure that he didn’t pull a gun out. You never know.”
Barbour acknowledges the cellphone camera trained on him helped. “It might have been a lot worse if Charles wasn’t recording,” he said. “So worse I might not have be here now. I don’t know.
“You can tell just by his attitude he is itching for something to happen. He wanted commotion because he came back.”
The cop did drive out of his way to the opposite side of the overpass, then ditched his cruiser in the middle of the road to start jawing with Barbour and company.
“You want to play a game?” Schlegelmilch asked. “Shut your piehole.”
He dismissed Barbour’s suggestion to put down his phone and pitch in. “I just take pictures for the mayor’s office,” he said.
Barbour can be heard saying: “I said there is nothing wrong with it. I was saying instead of taking pictures why don’t you come up instead and help?”
Barbour hoped the cop would take him up on his offer.
“What better than to help and serve and protect us like the police say they’re supposed to do,” he said. “You know that’s a good look for the law.”
But Schlegelmilch snubbed him. “I work at the homeless shelter,” he said, pointing his right thumb behind him. “OK, you understand me?”
Barbour asked, “Why the attitude though?”
Schlegelmilch replied, “Don’t scream at me.”
But the cop claimed he was suffering from a “medical condition” and again made sure to remind Barbour who was in charge. “Shut your mouth about my mouth and condition, you don’t need to know.”
The South Bend police officer pointed at Barbour and kept boasting about how he’s devoted time to helping the homeless. “Shut-up for a second. I’ve been at the homeless shelter for two years; check the log.
“How many times have you been in there?” Schlegelmilch retorted. “None.”
Schlegelmilch was referring to the Center for the Homeless, a shelter that has numerous University of Notre Dame administrators on its board. The cop, according to an email sent to The South Bend Tribune the charity’s director Steve Camilleri, was employed on an “on call basis” but hadn’t logged a shift at the shelter for months.
He also wasn’t offering the charity his charity. It was a paid side gig, according to Chief Crittendon.
“The homeless shelter is something totally didn’t and not connected with us,” he said. “That is separate from the South Bend Police Department.”
But announcing his ties to the shelter was supposed to be Schlegelmilch’s master stroke to silence this pestering backtalker.
It backfired. Badly.
Barbour knew all too well about this shelter because he spent some of his hardest years as a child under its roof.
“It’s the same homeless center I stayed there with me my mom and two little sisters,” Barbour said. “We were there for a couple of years and my friends they never knew that about me when I was growing up.”
Naturally, “It means a lot to me to help these people.”
The cop that talked down to him was clueless.
“He didn’t know and it’s not my place to have to explain it to him,” Barbour said. “You can be on the log books so to speak but there is no log book for the streets.
“You don’t check in no log book or check my signature. Don’t nobody care about nobody’s signature while these people are on the streets.”
After appearing before the South Bend Board of Public Safety, Schlegelmilch was suspended and docked a day’s pay.
Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski wrote on Oct. 11 that his officer was “rude and discourteous” and “did not compose or portray himself in a manner that reflects favorably on the police department.”
Patrol Division Chief Eric Crittendon echoed his superior when contacted by The Daily Beast stating that Schlegelmilch was not acting on behalf of the department “when he confronted them” and that he “violated one of our guidelines set forth in our the duty manual.”
Every civil servant in the department including Schlegelmilch are held to a high standard.
“We expect all our men and women of the South Bend Police Department wearing our badge to respect every person, every citizen—regardless of race color or creed or economical status,” Chief Crittendon said.
A spokesman for Mayor Pete Buttigieg expressed that accountability “when it comes to officer courtesy.”
“The mayor expects police officers to treat anyone they encounter, from a CEO to a homeless person, with courtesy and respect.”
The board relied heavily on their exchange being captured by Charles Smith’s cellphone footage.
The disciplinary action came as the department has been battling some harsh headlines in the recent past.
Four years ago, 17-year-old Deshawn Franklin was wrongly accused and rousted from his slumber in his house and tased by South Bend cops.
More recently the department settled a defamation case brought by a handful of officers who argued they were illegally taped during phone call recordings purportedly featuring racist chatter.
Barbour believes his mistreatment stems from this culture.
“They think because they wear that badge they think they’re above what they are, which is the law. And it’s not right by far,” he said. “Don’t sit up there and try to intimidate me and trying to belittle me as a person. No, I’m a man before you even got that badge!”
Indeed, Schlegelmilch has been pegged at least two times where his policing conduct was questioned.
One active federal lawsuit involves Schlegelmilch and other officers inflicting a beating caught on dash cam against Royce Love back in 2013.
The assailant took South Bend police on a chase before they halted him with spike stripes. Love obeyed officers’ commands, and was vindicated when footage proved he was lying on the concrete with his hands “raised in the air” before he was bludgeoned. That’s when Schlegelmilch and his fellow officers allegedly tased him multiple times and punched him and then sicced a police K-9 who bit the man.
In an affidavit Love begged for mercy. “I yelled out to them that ‘I was sorry.’”
And Schlegelmilch was named along with two other officers for beating up a Mitchell Burton inside of his car back on Christmas morning in 2010. In a “leaked video” at least one officer is seen striking the car multiple times and two officers pull a screaming Burton from the driver’s seat before the staticky crackle tick-tick-tick sound of stun gun silences him.
Burton’s won his freedom on appeal (PDF).
As for Barbour, he said he wants to fulfill his dream of opening up a barbeque joint and shine a spotlight back on the plight of the homeless.
And he’s challenging cops to do more.
“Instead of hassling these people and putting them down why not go back to the police station and say ‘Look all these people are down here and it’s about to get cold. I got some old work boots I don’t use no more and can give them… we might not be able to provide them with a house but we can give them something to keep their feet from freezing.’”
That one day ding that Schlegelmilch received seems light for Charles Smith, but he says it was something.
“I’m impressed that the chief did come out and say point blank it was wrong,” he said.
Barbour, on the other hand, believes the cop’s behavior called for a stiffer penalty.
“He’s at work right now doing whatever he wants to do,” he said. “It’s a slap on the hand.”
Barbour does wonder how Schlegelmilch sleeps at night.
“You clock out your shift and you go home but how can you go home living with yourself knowing you degraded human being?”