Tape scandal: Mayor's version not matching US Attorney/DePaepe versions

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A letter Mayor Pete Buttigieg sent to the South Bend Common Council was suppose to answer questions, not create more; it did both.

The letter was sent out Wednesday night by Buttigieg’s Chief of Staff Mike Schmuhl; Buttigieg is serving in the Naval Reserve and will not return until next week.

His letter outlined his actions in late March to cease prior phone recording practices and suspend recording features on phones throughout the City administration.

He cites a letter sent to the city Legal Department last week by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a source for many of his statements.

However, his citations do not always appear to match up with how the letter actually reads.

“I look and see what the Mayor’s office wrote and it’s not consistent with what the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, nor is it consistent with what my client explained this system is capable of doing,” said Scott Duerring, the attorney for former Police Department Communications Director, Karen DePaepe.

According to the mayor’s letter, “Seven lines in the South Bend Police Department were always recorded. Three other lines were also recorded, at the discretion of the Chief of Police, by the Director of Communications.”

Whether the phrase “at the discretion” meant the three lines were added to the system by Chief Boykins, or if it meant he could order the Director of Communications to record specific conversations as they occurred, is unclear. Regardless, either way is incorrect, according to DePaepe.

The system that recorded telephone lines was set to record all the time, and was not set up, let alone capable, of recording on-demand, according to DePaepe.

DePaepe also has explained the history of which lines were recorded, and has stated that former Chief of Police Thomas Fautz ordered the three lines the mayor referenced in his letter to be added to the system.

Buttigieg claims the three “selectively recorded” lines were the Chief of Police’s phone, the Division Chief for Uniformed Officers phone, and the Division Chief for the Detective Bureau’s phone.

Buttigieg’s claim that they were selectively recorded does not match what the U.S. Attorney’s letter states, though the mayor insists that it does. “This practice was also described in the letter from Mr. Capp to the Legal Department,” wrote Buttigieg.

This is what that letter actually said, “Generally, it appears that all 911 calls and all police radio traffic were recorded. Additional lines usually recorded were police front desk lines, the Chief's office lines, a line for internal affairs, the main detective bureau line, and most of the division chiefs’ lines.

As you can see it does not break down which lines, if any, were “selectively recorded” as the mayor claims.

In a written statement sent to us today, in response to our request for an on camera interview, the mayor’s Chief of Staff wrote, “We have provided Council with the best information available to us on this issue.”

He then went on to quote the letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to the Legal Department, “The U.S. Attorney conducted his own investigation and ‘did not uncover a written document that specified exactly what phone lines were to be recorded.’ According to the U.S. Attorney, it was all instructed orally from the ‘Police Chief to the Director of Communications.’”

While it is true that instructions were passed orally, we did not see how that answered our question about the discrepancies between Buttigieg’s version things where some lines were always recorded and some selectively recorded; and the version of things found in the U.S. Attorney’s letter that lumped them all together and did not specify which if any were selectively recorded.

The response has also led us to ask; if no written documentation was uncovered, how can the mayor say which lines if any were selectively recorded in the first place? We did not receive a response.

Finally, the mayor lists all of the phone lines that were being recorded. He splits them into two groups, the lines he labels “always recorded” and lines he labeled “selectively recorded.”

If the mayor is trying to justify his decision to remove them from their positions based on the three “selectively recorded” lines that were recorded at the discretion of the Chief of Police, by the Director of Communications, he may be barking up the wrong tree.

According to DePaepe, the recording she stumbled across was actually from one of the lines on the mayor’s “always recorded” list, not on the “selectively recorded” list.

Recall that the original three lines Fautz asked to be recorded were the same three Buttigieg claims were being “selectively recorded.”

However, when retiring Detective’s Bureau Division Chief Steve Richmond was promoted to that position he asked Boykins administrative assistant to make sure he kept his old number.

The administrative assistant arraigned for a technician to come switch the physical locations of the lines, but never told the Director of Communications about the switch; so a technician never came out and switch the lines within the recording system.

With the recorded line now mistakenly routed to the phone of the Captain of the Detectives Bureau, not the Division Chief’s phone, the “selectively recorded” lines list should still have the same number as it did prior to the physical location switch.

But the mayor’s list does not reflect that.

In fact, it lists the mistakenly recorded line on the “always recorded” list; which if you have been following would not be possible based on the mistake story that has been verified by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I don’t know whether there is just a complete lack of understanding of what the system did and what it was capable of doing, or there is an intentional action going on here trying to mislead members of the Common Council, or members of the public,” said Duerring.

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