Department of Justice letter about police tapes sparks more questions

A letter South Bend received from the Department of Justice regarding controversial police recordings is sparking more questions than answers.

Last Thursday, Mayor Pete Buttigieg held a press conference during which he said the city had received a box from the DOJ.

Buttigieg said he believed police tapes, which allegedly contain “racially charged and defamatory statements,” were inside.

But, he said the city wasn’t sure because they’d received no letter or other correspondence from the DOJ with the box.

"Our expectation is the box contains the tapes," Buttigieg said Aug. 30. "If there was anything the justice department needed us to know in addition to that, we're pretty sure they would have let us know."

Now, nearly a week later, the mayor’s office says the legal department received a letter from the DOJ's Civil Rights Division on Wednesday.

The letter states the DOJ didn’t listen to the recordings because information provided by the city indicates the tapes don't violate any federal criminal civil rights statutes.

Because there appears to be no reason for prosecution, the department won't investigate the matter.

"What we have is two different agencies from the federal governement, one the U.S. attorney saying he wasn't going to prosecute anyone in this incident. And then we have the DOJ sending back the tapes that were sent to them, indicating they're not the types of tapes they're going to handle," said E. Spencer Walton, the attorney hired by the South Bend Common Council.. "So, you've got two federal agencies indicating there's no problem here."

But, when the city received the letter is in question – it’s dated Aug. 27 and states at the top copies were sent by fax and e-mail.

“There's some questions we have on the timing of the letter by the time it was shared with the council," said Council President Derek Dieter.

The common council held an executive session Wednesday afternoon to discuss the contents of the letter from the DOJ.

They’re waiting for the mayor's office to respond to their questions.

"Our questions were if indeed the letter was sent earlier and how it was received, when it was received, if they just received a copy of the letter today," said Attorney for the Common Council Kathleen Cekanski Farrand.

Buttigieg’s Chief of Staff Mike Schmul told NewsCenter 16 in a statement, "We became aware of a letter Tuesday and I reached out to the DOJ in Washington because we hadn't seen anything. They re-sent a copy Wednesday."

The letter didn't address the question of whether the existence or content of the tapes violate any federal laws.

That matter is expected to be decided in local and federal court.

The common council filed a subpoena in August asking the content of the recordings be released.

In response, Buttigieg wrote a letter asking the federal courts to weigh in on whether complying with the council's request would be illegal because of federal wiretapping laws.

The tapes allegedly contain recordings of racist, defamatory remarks made about former Police Chief Darryl Boykins.

Boykins was demoted and Communications Director Karen DePaepe fired in the wake of a federal wiretapping investigation into the recorded calls.

Since then, council members have pressured the mayor to release the recordings.

Buttigieg has maintained doing so would violate the Federal Wiretapping Act and could put the city in legal jeopardy.

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