South Bend announced another settlement Monday in the wiretapping scandal that rocked the city’s police department. Fired police communications director Karen DePaepe and the city filed a joint motion in federal court to dismiss the lawsuit she filed against the city.
Documents released through the Freedom of Information Act reveal her settlement is $235,000.00 – bringing the total taxpayer cost in the ordeal just shy of $1 million.
According to court documents, $10,000 of the payout is for lost wages, after the Mayor’s office fired DePaepe in 2012. Another $10,000 is reimbursement for fees DePaepe has already paid her attorneys and the rest is for DePaepe’s claims that she suffered defamation and emotional distress.
But neither she nor the city are admitting wrongdoing.
“She gave the city 25 years and of course it was a hard thing to deal with,” said DePaepe’s attorney, Scott Duerring.
However, Duerring said the settlement between DePaepe and the city is fair.
“I think closure's a process and I think this is part of the process you have to go through from an emotional standpoint to work your way through something,” he added.
Due to a confidentiality agreement between the city and Duerring, he said he’s legally not allowed to talk specifics about the settlement or how his client and the city agreed on that amount.
“[It] could not have come soon enough,” said Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D – South Bend).
The Mayor’s office fired DePaepe and Buttigieg demoted former police chief Daryl Boykins nearly 2 years ago – after a federal wiretapping investigation into the department. The 2 were accused of illegally recording and listening to a phone line in the department’s detective bureau.
“This controversy has been a very painful one for our whole community and it's divided a lot of people of good will, and that's what makes it so urgent to move forward,” Buttigieg said Monday.
But moving forward comes with a hefty price tag.
Last month, the city settled with 4 police officers and 1 of their wives, who said their conversations were illegally recorded on that line. That settlement amount: $525,000.
Boykins and his attorney each received $25,000 in his racial discrimination suit, adding up to an additional $50,000.
South Bend Corporation Counsel, Cristal Brisco, estimated Monday the city’s outside legal fees cost around $180,000.
Add DePaepe’s $235,000 and the grand total is around $990,000 to clean it all up.
The money is coming from a liability insurance fund established in the city budget. All city departments contribute to the “Internal Service Fund” annually. The fund is in place to offer the city a form of self-insurance for the settlement of such claims and is made up of taxpayer dollars, the mayor said. Money from litigation the city wins is also deposited into that fund.
“This is a situation where there were a lot of different considerations to weigh and at the end of the day, moving the city forward and freeing us from the distraction and devisiveness of these cases became a compelling way to move forward,” Buttigieg said.
The city is now free and clear from any financial liability caused by the wiretapping lawsuits, but the case is not over. All sides are now waiting for a judge to decide whether those tapes were legally recorded. His decision could take weeks or months.
Duerring and DePaepe are still facing a potential lawsuit from the 4 officers involved in the case for allegedly listening to the tapes and talking about what’s in them.
When asked why DePaepe getting so much more than those officers, Buttigieg and Brisco would not comment. But both said settling the cases out of court saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.