SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A federal judge will decide whether the mayor of South Bend must release tape recordings from police department telephones that are part of separate lawsuits filed by officers who contend their conversations were illegally recorded.
The South Bend city council had asked U.S. District Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen to dismiss the case so a state court could decide whether the recordings should be released, but Bokkelen rejected that motion Monday, The South Bend Tribune reported .
The lawsuits stem from a U.S. Justice Department investigation last year into the recordings. The investigation led to Police Chief Darryl Boykins resigning and then trying to rescind his resignation, saying he had been pressured to submit it by Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Boykins also said the federal investigation dealt with practices that existed before he was chief and that he never used or told others to use those practices.
The mayor still demoted Boykins to captain last March. The department's communications director later was fired.
The Justice Department returned the recordings to the city in August without listening to them because it said there wasn't sufficient evidence of a crime even though they might contain "racially charged and defamatory statements" about Boykins, who became the city's first black police chief in late 2007.
A lawsuit filed in September by some high-ranking officers claims Boykins ordered the recordings to determine whether division chiefs were loyal to him and to punish anyone who might seek to take his job as chief.
The South Bend city council served Buttigieg with a subpoena compelling him to release the recordings. Buttigieg refused, saying doing so might violate federal law. Buttigieg has said he will not listen to the tapes unless a court rules it's legal.
Interim city attorney Aladean DeRose praised Van Bokkelen's decision.
"This decision is a first step toward achieving what the mayor has sought all along: a federal court ruling on whether the recordings can be released without violating the law," he said.
Council President Derek Dieter, a South Bend police officer since 1978, said the council hopes the case can continue toward a resolution.
"All the council was trying to do was find out which court this should be in," Dieter said. "As long as a judge hears it, it doesn't matter."
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