Judge: Police recordings to be released once appeals heard

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Audio recordings inadvertently made a decade ago of South Bend police officers must be released to the city council, a judge has ruled in a long-running case that shadowed former mayor Pete Buttigieg’s presidential run.

St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Steven Hostetler said in Monday’s ruling that because no members of a group of current and former officers were recorded speaking on the tapes they lack the legal standing to challenge their release.

But the recordings won’t be released to the council in the near future even though the judge wrote in his ruling that it means the South Bend Common Council’s subpoena seeking a series of nine conversations on five cassette tapes “must be enforced.”

That’s because Hostetler had previously ruled that any recordings cannot be released until after all appeals are heard in the case, the South Bend Tribune reported.

Hostetler’s ruling eliminates the need for a trial, originally scheduled to begin last week, because now there are no parties able to oppose the council’s subpoena for the recordings.

Because Hostetler did not rule on whether the tapes were made illegally, it is uncertain if council members can legally publish, or even listen to, the recordings once they are in their possession.

In the absence of a trial, the council will now research avenues to get a ruling on the legality of the recordings, Bob Palmer, an attorney representing the council, said in a statement which called the ruling an affirmation of the council’s right to investigate public employees.

Daniel Pfeifer, an attorney representing the officers, said Monday there will be appeals in the case. He expressed frustration there was not a judicial ruling on the legality of the tapes.

“After all this time, there’s still no decision that’s been entered. … Absolutely it’s frustrating to all the interveners,” Pfeifer said.

Karen DePaepe, a police department employee who oversaw the department’s phone system, has said she discovered in early 2011 that officers were being inadvertently recorded on a phone line, and that she heard white police officers making racist comments.

The police tape dispute later prompted then-Mayor Buttigieg to demote Police Chief Darryl Boykins, the city’s first Black police chief, and to fire DePaepe.

Buttigieg ran for president in 2020 and is now the nation’s transportation secretary.