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South Bend 'Police Tapes' Will Be Turned Over To Council, But Likely Won't Be Heard For Some Time


A judge has ruled audio recordings that allegedly contain South Bend police officers making racist comments must be turned over to the South Bend Common Council. Still, the so-called “police tapes” won’t be heard anytime soon.


The tapes issue goes back to 2011, when a former SBPD communications officer came across recorded phone calls from the line of an officer who didn’t know they were being recorded.


The case has been in the courts ever since, and a trial was set last week to determine whether officers had implicitly consented to being recorded.


On Monday, though, St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Steven Hostetler ruled the officers didn’t actually have legal standing, meaning the council’s subpoena of the tapes must now be enforced. However, whether the council can legally play or release the tapes once they have them remains to be seen.


"There has not been a judicial determination of whether the recordings were made legally or illegally," Hostetler wrote in his ruling. "There has similarly been no judicial determination as to whether or not the tapes, once they are produced to the council, may legally be listened to, disseminated or published in any way."


Hostetler also issued a stay that prevents the release of the tapes until all appeals are exhausted.


Dan Pfeifer, an attorney representing the officers, said there are several issues that will need to be appealed in the case, meaning it won't be resolved anytime soon. 


“I plan on retiring in about five years," Pfeifer said. "The jury is out, in my mind, as to whether there will be a resolution before I retire or not."


In his ruling, Hostetler wrote that the police tapes have "hung like a storm cloud" over South Bend for almost nine years. He said the court has "no idea" what is on the tapes, but implied that the contents may not be as controversial as they seem.


"It seems likely that the contents of the tapes are important," Hostetler wrote. "On the other hand, it seems far from certain that the tapes are the bombshell they have been made out to be. The Court strongly encourages everyone involved to once again make a concerted effort to resolve this conflict and lift the cloud that has stubbornly lingered over this community for so long."


Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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