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SBPD phone recording scandal timeline: A look at the first 4 weeks of info

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – It has been four weeks since Darryl Boykins was forced to resign his position as chief of police at the South Bend Police Department.

Here is a look at what ABC 57 has been able to uncover so far.

It all started last year.

February 2011:

Karen DePaepe, then Director of Communications for the South Bend Police Department, says she stumbled onto recordings laced with racial slurs while performing maintenance on the equipment that captures and stores all phone conversations recorded at the station.

DePaepe says she was torn whether to ignore their existence or to report them to her superiors. Despite knowing she would be persecuted for bringing them to light, DePaepe decided to follow her chain of command and Chief Boykins was notified.

February 2011 to January 2012:

Little has been discussed, on the record, about what happened during this time.

January 2012:

Federal investigators contact DePaepe and she says, they tell her she is a witness in a federal investigation. She agrees to assist them with whatever they need, according to DePaepe.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg is told the FBI is investigating suspected violations of the Federal Wiretap and Electronic Eavesdropping statute.

January – Late March 2012:

At some point after he is told about the investigation, Mayor Buttigieg commissions special attorney, and former City Attorney, Rich Hill to advise him on matters related to the federal investigation.

March 29:

We broke the news; Chief Boykins was to being forced to resign his position. Afterward, the Mayor’s Office released a statement saying Boykins’ resignation was the result of a completed federal investigation, and that more administrative personnel changes would be occurring which the mayor expected would “meet requirements laid out by federal authorities.” It also announces Former SBPD Chief Chuck Hurley would be named interim-chief the following day.

March 30:

Boykins attempts to withdraw his resignation, but the mayor refuses to let him. Buttigieg, demotes Boykins to the rank of Captain (we find out later the Mayor cannot actually fire the Chief of Police, that must be done by the Board of Public Works, according to Buttigieg).

At Hurley’s swearing in the mayor is asked several questions to which he gives contradictory answers. Buttigieg incited several South Bend Common Council members when he said, “We had a problem, I fixed it.” Council members express displeasure with the Mayor’s handling of the situation and the fact they were kept in the dark about it the whole situation. They argue that the Mayor is not the only one running the city and the decision while ultimately up to him, should have had been tempered with input from them.

Meanwhile, Boykins met with supporters and stated he did nothing wrong. “The things they are accusing me of have been going on in the police station for a while, no different than any other chief that’s been around, so I asked myself ‘why me?’,” said Boykins.

April 4:

After several days of getting the run around, we went to the Mayor’s Office trying to get an audience with Mayor Buttigieg. After hours of waiting, the mayor’s Director of Communications, Deborah Johnson talked to us off camera, though was unable to answer the most basic questions.

After asking her what the hold-up was for scheduling a sit down interview with Mayor Buttigieg, Johnson replied, “I can try to get back to you with an answer in the near future.” When asked why she could not estimate how long it would be until she had that answer, she replied, “I don’t have an answer for that.”

We caught up with the mayor at a public function later that day, and when we asked if we could borrow him for a few minutes to ask him some of our questions he refused. When we insisted the questions were of a nature that he could address, Buttigieg insisted they were not; despite not having any knowledge of them.

April 7:

Mayor Buttigieg spoke to community members at Emmanuel Community Church for Empowerment Saturdays. During the event, members of the community pressed the mayor for details and answers to questions they had. One man addressed the mayor’s decision to demote Boykins said, “We don’t know who the back players was (sic), that you met with to make that decision.”

Buttigieg attempted to respond to most of the questions, but again insisted there were things he could not, and would not talk about. Though he did provide them with this statement, “information came from lots of sources; my own council; legal council; federal investigators; and my own conscience.”

April 10–11:

Karen DePaepe is fired the evening of April 10. She was taken into the Mayor’s conference room by the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Mike Schmule; commissioned Special Attorney Rich Hill; and interim-chief Chuck Hurley. She was asked to resign as Director of Communications for the police department and she refused stating she had done nothing wrong, according to DePaepe.

Rich Hill then told her the Mayor’s Office was being forced by “the feds” to get rid of her and Boykins in order to avoid the filing of federal indictments, according to DePaepe.

According to DePaepe, she was then told by Mike Schmule; if she or anyone else talked about the federal investigation she would be arrested.

DePaepe said no disciplinary notice was shown or given to her at the time of her meeting with Hill, Schmule, and Hurley. She also said Hurley was silent the entire time.

The next day, after a tip from a source inside the police department, ABC 57 was the first to break the news, DePaepe had been fired.

Mayor Buttigieg held his State of the City address, but it was overshadowed by the recent development. Reporters questioned the mayor about the demotion of Boykins and the recent firing of DePaepe.

“Was Karen DePaepe fired yesterday?” we questioned. “It’s the policy of the City not to comment on personnel matters,” replied Mayor Buttigieg.

When we questioned Schmule’s implied threat, “Why would Mike Schmule tell her that if she talked about the investigation, she would be arrested?” Buttigieg refused to address his Chief of Staff’s actions and instead repeated himself, “It’s the police of the City not to comment on personnel matters.”

April 12:

We contact FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C., speak with an agent who specializes in media relations for public corruption about the policies and procedures the bureau employees in situations like the one in South Bend.

We are told it is the FBI’s policy not to confirm, deny, or comment on any investigation it is currently doing, or has completed.

However, if they were to investigate violations of the Federal Wiretap and Electronic Eavesdropping statute, they would not tell the person they were being investigated at any time; and when their investigation is complete it would be turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office where an Assistant U.S. Attorney would be assigned the case.

They also said, they do not do consulting work and they certainly do not check for compliance; they investigate crimes, and they either find a crime has been committed or it has not.

We contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office and were told their policy is not to confirm, deny, or discuss any case that is forwarded onto them, until any portion of it becomes a public record, at which point criminal charges would be pressed against the suspect.

We also learned that the statute of limitations on violations of the Federal Wiretap and Electronic Eavesdropping statute is five years; and that there is a lengthy section of the statute that provides exceptions to when individuals can legally violate the law.

April 13:

DePaepe and her attorney Scott Duerring sat down with ABC 57 and gave us their side of the story. We find out when DePaepe became aware of the recordings, what she did with them, why she chose to do that, and that she had been personally told by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Schmid two weeks prior that he had no expectation of pressing charges against her.

Later that afternoon, the City Attorney’s Office provided us with a redacted copy of the disciplinary notice that led to DePaepe’s firing (the same one that was not present at the time of her termination).

Several lines were completely blacked out on the document including: date, time, and witnesses of the offense, as well as the details and circumstances surrounding it. The rules violated line read, “Policy 21 4.2 Conduct Unbecoming a City Employee.” The notice was dated April 10 but filed two days later on April 12.

April 14–17:

Over the next few days, we obtain a copy of the City of South Bend’s Employee Handbook Policies and Procedures and begin to question the procedure the city used to terminate DePaepe.

According to policy, DePaepe should have been shown a copy of the disciplinary notice and given the gold copy the date of her termination; that did not occur.

According to policy, there are 10 conduct violations that have immediate termination as a punishment option, but none of them match with what DePaepe was told she was being fired for.

There was one conduct violation listed, Violating FCC regulations that would have been a stretch given the information about what had occurred leading up to DePaepe’s termination, which had a first offense punishment of a five-day suspension and a second offense punishment of “subject to discharge”.

Another section mentions Conduct Unbecoming but does not define it leaving it open to interpretation and discretion.

April 18:

We once again catch up with Mayor Buttigieg at a public meeting, and this time he is more cordial in at least hearing our questions. The same responses continue, however, as he goes on to tell us he cannot comment on personnel issues, and in some cases that the question we asked would have to be answered by the city’s legal department.

When asked if he could define what Conduct Unbecoming a City Employee meant, Buttigieg replied “well, it depends. Every time there is a disciplinary action that relates to decisions made concerning an employee’s actions; in this case due to the sensitivity of the matter, and because it’s a personnel action, I am not in a position to comment.”

Later, DePaepe receives the original gold copy of her disciplinary notice and we receive excerpts of one of her personnel files.

An inspection of her original gold disciplinary notice reveals what appear to be inconsistencies.

There are markings missing on the redacted document sent to us several days earlier that are present on original document.

The contents or lack of contents on the redacted lines are also revealed. On the time, date, and witnesses lines, the original read, “Variable; See Attached.”

Under details and circumstances, several blank lines were redacted. All that was written was, “please see attached memorandum.”

Two documents were given to DePaepe with the original gold disciplinary notice. One read “Confidential” across the top, but all of the information contained in the short single paragraph on it had already been given to the press by the Mayor weeks earlier in the days following Boykins demotion.

The second document is a copy of the press release the mayor sent out on March 29, again something the media already had access to.

A written request for an answer to the question of why the words, “Variable; See Attached” were redacted was placed with the City Attorney’s Office.

 April 19:

Community activists begin gathering signatures on two letters, addressed to the ACLU and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office.

April 23:

The State Chairman of the Independent Party and the Republican Party of St. Joseph County stand in solidarity with the community activists; speaking out against the mayor’s refusal to answer questions. “There seems to be a large faction of the community, especially the African American community that is losing trust in this administration,” said Deb Fleming, Chairman of the Republic Party of St. Joseph County.

The community activists unveil a t-shirt they have designed and made 300 copies of; it read, “Release the Tape,” on the front and, “What are you hiding?” on the back.

All three groups, and several other concerned citizens attend the first meeting of the full Common Council since the demotion of Darryl Boykins and the firing of Karen DePaepe.

Council President Derek Dieter wanted to hold a special executive session prior to this public meeting, but council member availability was hampered by family illnesses and vacations. The executive session had been put on hold.

Still fuming over the mayor’s past comments, the council took note Buttigieg did not attend the public meeting, unlike his predecessor was want to do.

They did however notice, the mayor’s Chief of Staff was in attendance; and they noticed it when he tried to sneak out the back door before the meeting was over.

April 24:

We asked Mayor Buttigieg why he did not attend the meeting, he replied, “I don’t make every council meeting; I try to get there when we have important issues.”

When we asked why his Chief of Staff left before listening to public had an opportunity to comment or ask questions, Buttigieg said through laughter, “I’m sure he would have been delighted to talk to everybody, but we had a lot of work going on.”

His responses enraged several members of the council.

April 25:

Six members of the Common Council sent a strongly worded letter to the mayor, expressing their disappointment with his comments. “Each and every one of the issues that we presented last night was important,” said Common Council Vice President, Oliver Davis.

Council members expressed plans to continue to look into their rights to investigate the actions of the Mayor’s Office and the matter involving Karen DePaepe, Darryl Boykins and the changes to their employment status.

Where we are headed from here

After four weeks, we have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg of this ongoing saga.

You can expect us to continue to search for answers in the coming weeks, to all of the outlying questions connected to this situation that resulted in a federal investigation into the police department.

With several requests for documents, and the recordings in question, being processed right now; you can be sure we will bring you more answers as we get them.

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