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South Bend 'police tapes' case gets a new trial date after years of uncertainty

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

The long-running legal saga of the South Bend “police tapes” has entered a new chapter.

For the first time since 2021, there’s a real possibility the case goes to trial to determine whether it’s legal for the infamous audio tapes to be played publicly.

On Friday, St. Joseph County Judge Jamie Woods set a trial date in the case for Nov. 20. The trial will be a bench trial, meaning the judge will rule on the case instead of a jury due to the complex legal issues in question.

The tapes were made in 2011 when a police department communications director discovered the phone line of certain officers were being recorded. On the orders of the police chief at the time, the communications director continued to record the phone lines and allegedly picked up a handful of officers making racist comments and discussing illegal activity.

The question for over a decade now is whether the tapes were made legally, which means they could be released publicly, or not. The case almost went to trial in 2021, but former St. Joseph County Judge Steven Hostetler ruled none of the officers had legal standing to sue.

Since then, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned Hostetler's decision, moving the case back to St. Joseph County.

There will still be legal maneuverings between now the the date of the trial, and Woods indicated both sets will have time to submit written briefs after the trial, meaning the case still wouldn't be resolved until well into 2025 even if the current schedule holds up.

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.