Thursday, September 20, 2012

South Bend Police Officers File Suit Over Illegal Wiretapping Allegations

Several South Bend police officers are suing the city, its former police chief, communications director and an attorney following revelations earlier this year that the police department had been recording phone conversations that took place on private lines in the offices of higher-ranking police officers. Karen DePaepe, the city's former communications director, in attempting to record phone conversations of a division chief inadvertently recorded conversations on a phone in a police captain's office instead. Upon reviewing the content of some of those conversations she found offensive, DePaepe shared them with Chief Darryl Boykins. The police officers learned of the recorded conversations after Chief Boykins summoned one of them to his office and berated him for being a "back stabber" and referenced recorded phone conversations that he would use as a basis for firing of anyone he determined had been disloyal to him following his reappointment as chief by incoming Mayor Pete Buttigieg. DePaepe confirmed that she had tapped the officer's phone line when confronted with the accusations, which resulted in a firestorm that led Mayor Buttigieg to demote Boykins and fire DePaepe, both of whom have filed their own lawsuits against the city.

Buttigieg's administrations asked the U.S. Attorney's office to investigate the wiretapping of the phone lines. According to Buttigieg, he was told by the U.S. Attorney's office that unless he fired Boykins as police chief he would face criminal prosecution when the city's African-American community became outraged at Boykin's demotion. The U.S. Attorney's office subsequently claimed that it did not provide personnel advice to the city according to Boykins' attorney. No criminal charges were brought against anyone for violating federal wiretap laws. DePaepe and her attorney, Scott Duerring, gave several public interviews in which they accused the officers whose calls were recorded of making racially offensive comments about Boykins. The lawsuit claims that Boykins admitted to one of the plaintiffs that he had not heard him make racially offensive comments in the recorded phone conversations but said so "because his feelings had been hurt."

The lawsuit contends that the recording of the phone conversations violated their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches and seizures, as well as the federal wiretapping statute. It further alleges that the actions of the defendants support state tort claims for negligence, defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the harm they say they have suffered. Attorneys for the plaintiffs held a press conference yesterday upon filing their lawsuit according to the South Bend Tribune.

Daniel Pfeifer said the officers, who remained quiet for months, were vilified to the public. The tapes have been rumored to contain comments from officers making racist comments against Boykins, who is black, and possibly illegal comments.
The tapes have not been released to the public.
“For several months the plaintiffs have not said anything at the advice of their attorneys,” Pfeifer said. “They have become villains when in fact they are the victims. They’ve been the victims all along.”
The lawsuit contends that it is well known that some of the lines in the department are recorded, but that the officers believed individual lines, including their own, were private.
The defendants' attorneys shot back that the lawsuit was frivolous and state they will file counter claims against the plaintiffs.
“I can say that we’re going to formally respond through the appropriate channels through court, which may include seeking sanctions for the bringing of frivolous litigation,” Dixon said Wednesday.
Duerring also called the complaint frivolous and added that he and DePaepe will be replying to it with a counter claim against the plaintiffs for damages.
“The complaint is rife with factual inaccuracies and falsehoods that any reasonable investigation would have uncovered,” he said.
Buttigieg declined on Wednesday to discuss the details of the pending litigation, but did release a brief statement.
“These allegations make it all the more important for us to concentrate on finding outstanding new police leadership,” he said. “Our officers and citizens deserve leadership that puts the focus where it belongs: Fighting crime and serving our diverse community.”


Unigov said...

Well, this is BS: "the recording of the phone conversations violated their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches and seizures".

CircleCityScribe said...

It's unclear if this took place during the time Frank Straub was looking for a job as a "consultant."