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City of South Bend settles with officers, wiretapping case far from over

By Kelli Stopczynski
Published On: Dec 17 2013 08:42:44 AM CST
Updated On: Dec 17 2013 05:46:35 PM CST

South Bend spends more than $500,000 to pay off five cops. It's the latest development in the city's wiretapping saga, and WSBT's Kelli Stopczynski has the latest with all the details.

SOUTH BEND -

The City of South Bend has reached a legal settlement in a wiretapping case involving four city police officers, one of their wives and demoted Police Chief Darryl Boykins.

Tuesday morning, the City filed documents in federal court with former Chief Boykins and Metro Homicide Commander Tim Corbett, Assistant MHU Commander Dave Wells, Retired Detective Bureau Chief Steve Richmond, SVU Commander Brian Young and Officer Young’s wife, Sandy Young, noting the settlements and agreeing that the cases between them should be dismissed.

The City of South Bend has agreed to pay Boykins $50,000 to settle a racial discrimination suit he filed in 2012. His attorney will receive $25,000.

The City also agreed to pay the officers, Young's wife, and their attorneys a total of $500,000 to settle the wiretapping suit, according to legal documents WSBT received from the city. Neither the city nor attorneys representing the officers would comment on how that money would be distributed. 

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. 

The City says the wiretapping legal fees have already cost $140,000 taxpayer dollars - that’s in addition to the $575,000 involved in the settlements.  

The settlement documents, signed by all the police officers and Boykins, also say they are not aware of any evidence those police officers used any racist words or discussed illegal activity on the tapes.

"When this case first started, [these four officers] were, by some people, villianized. And they were made to be the bad guys," said Dan Pfeifer, one of the attorneys representing the officers. "They truly are the victims of illegal activity on the part of a couple of people at the police department."

In March 2012, Mayor Buttigieg demoted Boykins then fired police department Communications Director Karen DePaepe because of a federal investigation into allegations that the recordings of the phone conversations broke federal laws. 

The officers filed suit against the city and Boykins in 2012, claiming they were victims of the Federal Wiretap Act when their phone conversations were illegally recorded on Young's line in the department’s detective bureau.

Boykins filed a racial discrimination suit against the city, claiming he was demoted because he’s black.

The city said Tuesday the settlements are not an admission of wrongdoing on its part, but said it was in the best interest of taxpayers to resolve the cases at this point.

"Even defending and winning these claims in court carries great legal costs," Buttigieg explained. "So even though I'm confident that our administration did the right thing, there is still a big cost financially and in terms of energy and attention to defending and winning these claims in court."

Corporation Counsel Cristal Brisco estimates settling now saved taxpayers more than $1 million. 

But this case is far from over.

The City is still involved in a lawsuit with Karen DePaepe, who says she was wrongfully terminated.

The City and the police officers sued her attorney Scott Duerring, and the common council is also involved in the case to try and get the tapes of those conversations released.

The tapes still could be released to the public, but it’s up to a judge to decide.

For now, while the City waits for that opinion, the mayor says they’re still locked up in a secure location.