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Victim of sex abuse by South Bend cop sues city over police 'code of silence'

South Bend Police Department headquarters on West Sample Street
Marek Mazurek, WVPE
South Bend Police Department headquarters on West Sample Street

In September of 2022, Tim Barber stood in a St. Joseph County courtroom and told the 16-year-old girl he had statutorily raped that he was sorry for betraying her trust.

“I took an oath as an officer to serve and protect the community," Barber told the girl. "And I spat on that oath as I served myself and my own interests. And instead of protecting you, I became the monster I swore to protect you against.”

Barber had been a South Bend police officer for about three years when in 2021, he frequented the Chick-Fil-A restaurant on South Michigan Street and befriended a 16-year-old girl who worked there.

Over the course of a month, the 38-year-old Barber groomed the girl, bonding over her desire to work in law enforcement when she grew up. Then on two occasions in August and September of 2021, Barber picked the girl up in his squad car, drove her to a secluded place and sexually assaulted her.

Barber also apparently exposed himself to the girl on two occasions while she was at work, once by forcing her to touch his penis while he was in a car going through the drive through. However, charges specifically related to those instances were dropped when Barber pleaded guilty.

Barber resigned from the South Bend Police Department after it was made clear he would be fired if he didn’t leave. He admitted to one count of child seduction and one count of official misconduct, though St. Joseph County Judge Jeffrey Sanford did not give Barber any jail time, instead giving him four years of probation and counseling.

Now, the actions, or lack thereof, for Barber’s former South Bend police officers are at the center of a lawsuit filed by the girl Barber molested. The suit was filed back in federal court in December of 2022 and the girl is identified by the pseudonym Jane Doe.

'Code of silence'

The lawsuit claims that Barber would “constantly” come into the Chick-Fil-A and watch Jane Doe work. Once he learned the girl wanted to become a police officer, that became the focal point of the grooming dynamic.

But Barber wasn’t the only cop who visited the Chick-Fil-A location. The lawsuit claims that “a large percentage of Barber’s grooming of Jane Doe took place in the presence of other South Bend Police Department officers” and Barber would tell the girl some of those other officers had sex in their police cars.

Like many Chick-Fil-A franchises around the country, the South Michigan Street location has a policy of giving free meals to law enforcement officers who are in uniform, though the fast-food chain is not named in the lawsuit.

The other officers allegedly noticed Barber’s obsession with Jane Doe, as the suit says they teased Barber by saying she was his girlfriend. But Barber’s behavior was never reported by the officers due to what the suit calls a “code of silence,” which enabled Barber to continue grooming the girl.

Representatives for the South Bend Police Department and the city both declined to comment on the lawsuit. In legal filings, the city broadly argues it isn’t liable for damages caused by individual officers and says the 16-year-old consented to the sexual contact.

Mishawaka attorney Charles Rice is representing the girl and her family and also declined to speak on the record about the case, which is still in discovery. Court documents show the parties are engaged in mediation and the city has not filed a motion to dismiss.

The case against Barber and the city is a long way from being decided, but the Indiana Supreme Court recently ruled in similar cases involving Fort Wayne and Evansville officers that municipalities are liable for sexual assaults committed by police if they exploit their authority.

Sex crime sentencings

Barber is still serving his probation, though his lack of jail time outlines a discrepancy in punishments for various cases of sexual misconduct in St. Joseph County.

In 2022, judge Elizabeth Hurley sentenced an Osceola softball coach to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl who was on his team. Because that girl was under 14 as opposed to 16, as in Barber’s case, Indiana law stipulates significantly different sentencing outcomes.

However in September, a Clay High School teacher was sentenced for sending nude photos and explicit texts to a 15-year-old student. Both Barber and the Clay teacher were convicted of Level 5 felonies and neither had any prior criminal history, yet Barber received probation while Judge Stephanie Steele sentenced the teacher to three years in prison.

In another highly publicized case, Judge John Marnocha gave former South Bend cop Ryan O’Neill two years of probation for paying a woman for sex while on-duty in 2020.

When given an opportunity to speak at Tim Barber’s sentencing back in 2022, the girl told the court “As a victim I am also entitled to know that there are serious punishments for your crime. This punishment must reflect your horrible crimes and betrayal.”

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.