Largest settlement yet on SB police tapes case

The only person who was fired for alleged illegal wiretapping at the South Bend Police Department will now be paid by the city to settle her wrongful termination claim.

The settlement agreement with Karen DePaepe announced today is the last connected to the police tapes scandal and also the largest.

DePaepe will collect a total of $235,000 for dropping her lawsuit. $10,000 represents a compromise on DePaepe’s claim for lost wages and benefits. $215,000 represents a compromise on claims for defamation and emotional distress. $10,000 will cover DePaepe’s legal fees.

DePaepe’s attorney Scott Duerring today said of the agreement: “Fundamentally it’s a fair and just resolution and a significant factor in letting Karen move on with her life.”

Back in late 2011, DePaepe was the police department’s communications director. She was dealing with phone system equipment problems when she stumbled upon a dozen or so recorded conversations that, in her deposition, DePaepe said “alarmed her.”

In the deposition, Depaepe claims she listened to about a dozen calls over a period of an hour because “It was something I considered illegal.”

Today, a mayor who claims he hasn’t listened to one second of the tapes today announced a settlement with the person who has arguably heard the most.

Despite the $235,000 payment, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg today said he did nothing wrong in March of 2012 when he fired DePaepe. “I did what I have to do, this office comes with a lot of hard decisions, the easy ones don’t make it here, and that was certainly a tough situation all around. Nobody wanted to be in that situation. There have been a lot of consequences but at the end of the day I did what I felt was necessary and have not acknowledged any position contrary to that in the terms of this settlement.”

In the agreement, Karen DePaepe says she does not have any copies of the recordings and she agrees not to disclose information about the content of the tapes.

DePaepe’s $235,000 settlement is more than four and a half times greater than the payment received by former Chief of Police Darryl Boykins (who was demoted-but not fired). Boykins attorney also received a payment of $25,000.

DePaepe’s settlement is larger on a per person basis than the $500,000 paid to four officers and the wife of one of those officers, who had their calls recorded.

“This settlement means that there’s only one active court case remaining related to the tapes and that is an action in federal court that will inform us on whether or not we’re able to make any use of or listen to the content of the tapes,” said Mayor Buttigieg.

While the city has now spent a total of $810,000 on out of court settlements, it has also spent $225,000 on outside counsel to defend itself in legal proceedings that now focus on just one issue—whether the tapes involved illegal wiretapping.