UPDATE: Key player in police department recording investigation fired

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Karen Depaepe, a 25 year veteran of the South Bend Police Department, was fired Tuesday at a meeting at the Mayor’s Office.

According to Depaepe, she was told by Mike Schmule, Mayor Buttigieg’s Chief of Staff, the administration had been advised by higher-ups with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to make two personnel changes and adjust the telephone recording policy at the police department, and they would avoid federal indictments.

However, several law enforcement officers tell us that story doesn’t match the experience they have had with the U.S. Attorney’s office and how they operate.

Depaepe has been the director of the South Bend Police Department’s communications department for nearly 14 years, have started as a dispatcher.

Her job includes maintaining the system the department uses to record telephone calls that come into the building. Many of the calls on that system are accessible to the general public via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

According to Depaepe, Rich Hill was also at her termination meeting.

Depaepe said Hill told her he was a special attorney commissioned by Mayor Buttigieg specifically to deal with issues related to a federal investigation into recorded phone calls at the police department. Buttigieg confirmed Hill was working for him Wednesday night.

According to Depaepe, Hill told her they had already made one of the personnel changes the administration was allegedly advised to make using the phrase, “you know who” referring to former Chief of Police Darryl Boykins; and that she was the other change.

Depaepe said Hill then gave her a choice, she could resign or be fired. Depaepe said she refused to resign and that Hill replied, “then they would have to fire her.”

After that exchange Schmule added, “you understand that if you or anyone else talks about the investigation, you will be arrested,” according to Depaepe.

Depaepe told us, she felt intimidated by the comment and that it was not the first time Schmule had threatened her with it. It is the same comment we have heard was said to Boykins around the time he was forced out of office.

It was another comment that did not sit well with Depaepe, since she felt it was patently false.

The last time Depaepe spoke to the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern Indiana District, she was told not to quit her job and that she was not in any danger of being indicted on any charges. That was two weeks ago.

She also said they requested, not demanded, that she stay silent on the investigation; and Depaepe told us, they admitted, they could not force her to be silent.

According to FBI officials at the Chicago Field Office and the Washington D.C. Headquarters Wednesday afternoon, people have the right to talk about whatever they want, whenever they want.

Furthermore, people who are called as witnesses at a Grand Jury have the right to talk to the media, or anyone else for that matter, before they testify as well as after they testify. They are allowed to provide the questions they were asked and the answers they provided, if they wish.

This flies in the face of what we have been told by the Buttigieg himself, in regards to transparency of his knowledge of the investigation.

The FBI also told us that once they complete an investigation, they turn it over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office where it would be assigned to an Assistant U.S. Attorney, charges would be filed, and the legal process for determining justice would take over.

According to the FBI, no matter what they find in the course of their investigation, they will not comment on it to anyone. They will not confirm nor deny that an investigation is even ongoing.

They do this for several reasons. One of them is so the person being investigated does not destroy evidence or try to intimidate witnesses. Another reason is because if no criminal action can be proven, and no charges filed, it would be unfair to mar the reputation of someone who has done nothing wrong.

In other words, it protects them from defaming the character of people with serious allegations of being the target of a federal investigation.

Depaepe and Buttigieg have admitted a federal investigation into recorded phone conversations has been conducted.

According to U.S. Federal Criminal Code: 18 USC § 2511 - Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications prohibited Subsection (2) paragraph (a)(i), “It shall not be unlawful under this chapter for an operator of a switchboard, or an officer, employee, or agent of a provider of wire or electronic communication service, whose facilities are used in the transmission of a wire or electronic communication, to intercept, disclose, or use that communication in the normal course of his employment while engaged in any activity which is a necessary incident to the rendition of his service or to the protection of the rights or property of the provider of that service, except that a provider of wire communication service to the public shall not utilize service observing or random monitoring except for mechanical or service quality control checks.”

Depaepe’s job seems to fit the description this exception to the law provides. Furthermore, according to Depaepe, she informed Schmule and Hill at her termination meeting that she followed proper procedure when she found the recording by notifying and following the chain of command.

Depaepe said, the men did not respond to her statement.

When asked for an official statement Depaepe said, “All I wanted was to go back and do my job, and be left alone. I did not want to talk about what I found.”

Depaepe loved what she did. She had a passion for helping people and by running the dispatch center. It was her desire to try to insure that when the people of South Bend needed help they would get the best service possible.

Prior to our conversation with Depaepe on Wednesday she never provided ABC 57 with any information about the investigation, and is committed to continuing to withhold details until her attorney tells her otherwise.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg told us Wednesday night, he was finally satisfied that all of the changes he felt were needed at the police department have occurred and the matter can be put to rest.

That is unlikely, however, since there is still the matter of the contents of the recorded conversations yet to be confirmed.

Members of the community who consider themselves close to Boykins, as well as members of the police department itself, claim the recordings contain racial slurs were made in reference to Boykins.

It appears as if the Mayor is willing to simply overlook these allegations, and may even refuse to look into them all together.

That they were allegedly made by high ranking law enforcement officials, one of which is  member of the police department, is troublesome to several people we have talked to; in light of the Mayor’s feeling of satisfaction in his quest to “solve the problem” in the police department.

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