Pete Buttigieg is cutting ties and returning contributions from Steve Patton, the former Chicago city attorney who tried to block the release of video showing the, a black teenager whose death at the hands of police stirred months of protest and resulted in an officer's conviction.
Patton was to be a co-host of a Buttigieg fundraiser taking place Friday in Chicago, and Buttigieg said Friday that he only found out about Patton's involvement in the event Friday morning.
"I learned about it this morning and within about an hour of that, he's no longer involved in the event or the campaign," Buttigieg told David Axelrod, former President Obama's chief campaign strategist and the head of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics Friday. Buttigieg said, "Transparency and justice for Laquan McDonald is a lot more important than a campaign contribution."
Buttigieg press secretary Chris Meager said in the statement, adding, "We are returning the money he contributed to the campaign and the money he has collected."
Federal Election Commisssion reports show that Patton donated $5,600 to Buttigieg's campaign.
In an interview with CBS News, fellow presidential candidate Julián Castro expressed skepticism that Buttigieg did not know about Patton's ties to the McDonald case.
"Apparently the campaign sat on this info for several months after the contribution was made ... I don't think that we should be taking money from people that made it harder to get to the truth of what happened to Laquan McDonald," Castro said.
Patton, who led the City of Chicago Law Department under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is listed as a sponsor of the Friday event, according to an invitation obtained by CBS News.
For months, Buttigieg has faced criticism over his handling of race as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city with a history of segregation, where decades of tension erupted this summer when a white police officer shot and killed an African-American man. Despite Buttigieg's promises to "do better," the fundraiser demonstrates his sometimes awkward efforts to improve his standing in the black community, which is a crucial segment of the Democratic electorate.
Even before the South Bend shooting this summer, Buttigieg has struggled to address his record on race as mayor. Critics, including many residents, have blasted him for firing the city's first black police chief shortly after taking office, for prioritizing South Bend's downtown over its neighborhoods and for issues of housing, crime and inequality.
Patton did not respond to multiple requests for comment and his role in raising money for Buttigieg is unclear. But Buttigieg's campaign did not address a list of questions from the AP, including whether Patton's inclusion on the fundraiser meant he tapped into his own personal network to "bundle" contributions from others.
, as well as efforts by police to cover up the incident, caused turmoil in the city as attention to the case grew.
Police said at the time that McDonald was armed with a knife and "lunged" at officers. But the video, which was released over a year later after a judge's order, showed the teenager veering away when officer Jason Van Dyke fired sixteen shots at him. The knife he carried was a pocket knife.
Van Dyke was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison, and three other officers faced trial for a cover-up, though they were acquitted.
Patton faced criticism over his handling of the matter. He advised against releasing the video until after an investigation was concluded — and after Emanuel survived a contentious mayoral runoff reelection. And emails released by the city show he was directly involved in managing the fallout as media interest grew and coordinated statements with the city's purportedly independent police oversight board.
One of Patton's top deputies attempted to get McDonald's family to agree to not release the footage during settlement talks, which the city entered into without the family filing suit. Patton also played a role in negotiating a $5 million settlement that was far less than what McDonald's family asked for.
The law department he oversaw was found to have withheld evidence during discovery in a more than a half-dozen of police misconduct cases.
Before the campaign distanced itself from Patton Friday, activists had pointed to the fundraiser as Buttigieg's latest misstep with African-Americans. Over the summer, he held a fundraiser in Chicago's historically black Bronzeville neighborhood at a center named for Harold Washington, its first black mayor, which drew a mostly white audience.
"The worst case scenario is his people know and they just don't care, or they don't know and haven't vetted him thoroughly," said Charlene Carruthers, former head of Black Lives Matter group BYP100, which was instrumental in pushing for police reforms in the wake of the McDonald case.
"If they do know, it's indicative of so much of what we see with folks in the LGBTQ community — particularly white men who may hold a sexual identity, but their politics don't line up with the liberation of the people who are also in community with them."
Jack Turman contributed to this report.