Secret tapes in racially tinged police scandal may revive difficult time for Buttigieg

Image: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg Officially Announces Run For The Pre
Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets guests after announcing that he will be seeking the Democratic nomination for president on April 14, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. Copyright Scott Olson Getty Images
By Alex Seitz-Wald and Adam Edelman with NBC News Politics
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The surreptitious recordings in which some officers are alleged to have made racists comments could be made public soon after a years-long battle.


SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A lawsuit related to the demotion of a former South Bend police chief could potentially re-open one of the more uncomfortable moments of Pete Buttigieg's mayoralty as his presidential run picks up steam.

The South Bend Common Council is pushing to have tapes made public that secretly recorded police officers on telephone calls in which they allegedly made racist comments.

The controversy led Buttigieg to demote the city's first black police chief, Darryl Boykins, in 2012. He then sued the city alleging racial discrimination, alleging that the secret taping scandal was used as a pretext to oust him.

Boykins' demotion prompted a wave of criticism from many leaders in the city's black community. African-American pastors and city council members have said they want the tapes released so they can hear whether they captured white police officers using racist language.

Separately, a group of other officers is suing the city saying they were illegally recorded on the tapes and thus are trying to block their release.

"I would be very interested to know what is on the tapes," Buttigieg said several years ago.

The mayor's office says they can't release the tapes without approval from a judge since the recordings could violate wiretapping laws.

Litigation has been ongoing for six years and cost the city over $2 million, according to the South Bend Tribune.

A judge was supposed to decide on summary judgment by the end of last year, but a ruling could now be coming soon, according to The Hill.

The issue arose by accident after a former detective set up an automatic recording system on his office phone that continued to record officers after he left.

The department's former communications director said she discovered the recordings contained racist remarks and even discussions of a potential criminal conspiracy and brought it to Boykins' attention.

But Boykin and the communications director ended up being punished because the mayor's office believed that the recordings violated laws that require at least one party to consent to being recorded on a phone call — a position strongly endorsed by the officers recorded on the calls.

But the Common Council, which wants the tapes to be made public, claims there was "implied consent" among police officers because everyone knew the police department records calls.

While the recorded calls do not relate directly to Buttigieg, they could revive one of the more painful chapters of his tenure as mayor and raise questions about race and justice in Buttigieg's South Bend.

The mayor's office declined to comment on pending litigation and Buttigieg's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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