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Police tapes case may head to trial after Appeals Court reverses earlier ruling on standing

new_sbpd_officers.jpg
Justin Hicks
/
WVPE
Several new SBPD officers are sworn in during 2019.

The long-running South Bend police tapes case may be heading back to trial in St. Joseph County after a ruling from the Indiana Court of Appeals.

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

Allegedly, the tapes contain recordings of racist comments and discussion of illegal activity. The Common Council has been fighting in court since 2012 to force the city to hand them over, while seven former officers captured on them have sought to block the release, arguing the recordings violated their privacy and state and federal wiretapping laws.

In May 2021, St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Steven Hostetler ruled that the officers lacked legal standing in the case and that the tapes could be turned over to the council. The officers appealed — and on June 30, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that Hostetler’s decision was incorrect, overturning it.

In addition, the opinion says that despite a decade of various judicial proceedings in state and federal courts, “the fundamental question of whether any or all of these recordings constitute a violation of either state or federal wiretap laws has never been resolved.”

Unless a settlement agreement is reached between the officers and the council, the opinion says that question “must be answered” in order to resolve the case.

The Common Council plans to meet in executive session on Tuesday to discuss its next steps.

The seven former officers recorded on the tapes are Brian Young, Sandy Young, Tim Corbett, David Wells, Steve Richmond, Sheldon Scott, James Taylor and Scott Hanley.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.