Darryl Boykins, the first black man to serve as chief of police in South Bend, Indiana, was demoted by Mayor Pete Buttigieg in 2012 after he was accused of conducting illegal wiretaps on other police officers. Boykins has long denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the tapes were inadvertently made as part of a longstanding practice of recording certain phone lines.
Boykins stated that officers were heard on the recordings using racist slurs about him, according to a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Indiana in September of 2012. But the tapes have never been publicly released. Buttigieg says he has never listened to the tapes and has not made them public, stating that it would be inappropriate to do so unless a judge allows it.
No federal charges were filed against Boykins, or state charges. The case to have the tapes publicly released has continued in St. Joseph Superior Court. The South Bend City Council has been asking the courts to force the release of the tapes, while attorneys representing the recorded officers have pushed for the tapes to be destroyed on the basis of privacy.
The controversy has been resurrected into the national spotlight since Buttigieg announced his candidacy for president.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Four South Bend Police Officers Sued the City, Darryl Boykins & the Communications Director For Invasion of Privacy; the Lawsuit Alleges That Boykins Ordered Taps on Officers’ Phone Lines to Determine Who Was Personally Loyal to Him
The officers who had had their phone conversations recorded filed a lawsuit in September of 2012 against the city of South Bend, the police department, Darryl Boykins, police communications director Karen DePaepe, and her attorney, Scott Duerring. They took the case to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The officers suing were named as Brian Young, Timothy Corbett, David Wells, and Steve Richmond.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that their constitutional rights had been violated. They specifically cited the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens’ right to privacy and prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The plaintiffs were identified as having been high-ranking officers in the South Bend Police Department; the lawsuit also included an officer’s wife as a plaintiff.
The lawsuit acknowledges that it was police department policy to record certain phone lines “such as the front desk and calls and radio channels on the 911 system. But Plaintiffs believed that all officers’ individual office lines, including their own, were private.” The plaintiffs accuse Boykins of instructing DePaepe to set up a wiretap on Division Chief Steve Richmond’s phone line in February of 2010. But instead, she inadvertently tapped Captain Brian Young’s phone line, because he used Richmond’s old office. The lawsuit states, “After his telephone was tapped, Young placed calls to, and received calls from, Plaintiffs Wells, Corbett, and Richmond. In the course of these conversations, Plaintiffs discussed police operations, personnel changes at SBPD, and also purely personal matters.” In 2011, a wiretap was allegedly set up on Richmond’s phone line after DePaepe realized her mistake, the lawsuit claims.
The plaintiffs argue that these wiretaps were “not authorized by court order” and therefore illegal. They accused Boykins of using the recordings to determine “whether his division chiefs were personally loyal to him and to punish anyone who might seek the job of Chief of Police.”
Pete Buttigieg assumed the job of Mayor of South Bend in January of 2012. He reappointed Boykins as Chief of Police but had also allegedly interviewed two of the plaintiffs listed in this lawsuit for the job. According to the lawsuit, “Boykins summoned Richmond to his office and berated him for having been disloyal to him by seeking his job and for being a “back stabber” by deriding him in his interview with Mayor Buttigieg. At that same January 6, 2012 meeting Boykins told Richmond of the telephone intercepts and stated that he would have recordings of several senior officers delivered to him and that he would fire anyone he determined to be disloyal to him based on the contents of those recordings.” Karen DePaepe reportedly confirmed to one of the plaintiffs that she had been instructed to set up the wiretaps.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office as early as January 9, 2012. A federal investigation was opened. The plaintiffs also argue in the lawsuit that the city of South Bend held responsibility for the incident because that Boykins and DePaepe “acted within the scope of their employment by the City of South Bend and under color of Indiana law.”
2. Pete Buttigieg & the Federal Lawsuit Allege That He Was Pressured by the U.S. Attorney to Fire Chief Boykins or Else Boykins Would Face Federal Charges
Pete Buttigieg asked Chief Darryl Boykins for his resignation on March 31, 2012. Boykins acquiesced but then rescinded it the very next day. Rather than fire Boykins, Buttigieg ultimately decided to demote Boykins to Captain.
According to the lawsuit described in the first segment of this article, federal investigators allegedly pushed for Buttigieg to fire Boykins or else federal charges would be filed. The lawsuit states: “The U.S. Attorney’s Office subsequently conducted an investigation and informed Mayor Buttigieg that unless Darryl Boykins resigned as Chief of Police he would be criminally prosecuted.”
Buttigieg offered the same explanation in his autobiography, in which he stated that federal officials had offered a “thinly veiled message” that Boykins would face federal charges unless he stepped down. In “The Shortest Way Home,” Buttigieg described reappointing Boykins as his “first serious mistake as mayor.” He wrote that he “lost confidence in the leadership of a chief who had not come to me the moment he realized he was the target of an FBI investigation.”
Buttigieg also touched on the Federal Wiretap Act and Indiana state laws that prohibit the recording of individuals without a warrant. He wrote that he had never listened to the tapes and would not release them unless a judge explicitly allowed it.
Tom Dixon, who represented Boykins in the lawsuit, does not believe Buttigieg’s explanation that he was pressured by federal investigators to fire Boykins. Dixon told the New York Times that he asked a friend of his in the U.S. Attorney’s office whether Buttigieg’s explanation added up. He told the Times that his friend responded, “Tom, that explanation is so contrary to the protocols of U.S. Attorneys’ offices. We never would condition a determination on prosecuting or not prosecuting based on an employment decision. It would never happen.”
3. The Tapes Allegedly Included Racist Language Against Chief Boykins; the South Bend City Council Has Pushed for the Tapes to Be Made Public
The lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Indiana states that Darryl Boykins told the plaintiffs that the phone taps “captured them making racial slurs about him.” Karen DePaepe, the former police communications director, repeated those claims in media interviews after her firing.
In court filings, DePaepe added that she may have heard chatter that amounted to illegal behavior. She was fired a few days after Boykins was demoted. In an interview with the South Bend Tribune at the time, DePaepe stated that Buttigieg’s chief of staff, Mike Schmuhl (who is now Buttigieg’s campaign chairman), had threatened that she could be arrested for speaking publicly about the case. Schmuhl responded to the newspaper, “it’s city policy not to discuss personnel matters.”
The incident sparked outrage in South Bend, especially among the minority community. Chief Boykins was a popular police officer known for his community outreach (more on that later in this article). The fact that he was also the first black man named as chief of police made his demotion even more hurtful. A community activist named Mario Sims Jr., who admitted that he had not heard the content of tapes, told the Tribune, “The mayor, who we would think would act in a way to protect this community against law enforcement officers who would direct that type of vitriolic, acidic, racist terms, asked the chief to step down. I mean, the chief has been doubly victimized — first by having racist slurs directed toward him, then being removed from his position as chief.” The South Bend City Council has pushed the court to make the tapes public.
4. Darryl Boykins Sued Pete Buttigieg & the City of South Bend, Alleging That His Demotion Had Been Racially Motivated; the Case Was Settled Out of Court & Boykins Continued Working for the Police Department as a Captain
Darryl Boykins filed a federal lawsuit against Pete Buttigieg, Mike Schmuhl, and the city of South Bend, alleging that his demotion had been unlawful, and for discriminatory conduct. You can read the entire complaint embedded above. In the lawsuit, Boykins’ attorney states that his client’s civil rights had been violated and that the demotion from Chief of Police “was due to Plaintiff’s race, African American, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” The lawsuit also states that the demotion “was the result of a conspiracy of action on behalf of the Defendants to deprive Plaintiff of his constitutionally protected rights.” It further accuses Buttigieg, Schmuhl, and the city of inflicting “emotional distress” and defaming Boykins.
The lawsuit further explains its position that the firing may have been racially motivated by pointing out that when Buttigieg was first elected mayor, the city of South Bend had just three African Americans in public leadership positions. That included the Mayor’s Assistant, the Chief of the Fire Department, and Chief Boykins. The lawsuit states, “Within three months of Buttigieg taking office, all three African American leaders had either retired, been asked to leave, or been demoted, and none was replaced by another African American or other minority leader.”
Boykins’ attorney alleges in the lawsuit that Schmuhl, acting on behalf of Buttigieg, convinced Boykins that “Buttigieg had struck a deal with the U.S. Attorney, whereby the U.S. attorney would agree not to prosecute Boykins for violations of the federal wiretap act if Boykins would agree to the demotion.” Boykins stated that he felt intimated and agreed to resign as Chief, but quickly changed his mind. The lawsuit states that Boykins felt he had not violated the law and that he believed Schmuhl had lied to him about there being a deal with the U.S. Attorney. David Capp, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, said in 2012 that no federal charges were being brought against Boykins, but did not clarify whether Buttigieg’s decision to demote Boykins had influenced the case.
Ultimately, Boykins’ case for wrongful termination, Karen DePaepe’s case for defamation, and the lawsuit brought by the police officers for an invasion of privacy were all settled without going to trial. Boykins was granted $50,000 in 2013. The four officers were granted $500,000 that year as well. DePaepe was given $234,000 in a 2014 settlement.
5. Captain Darryl Boykins Served as a South Bend Police Officer For More Than 30 Years & Was Honored With a Distinguished Achievement Award For His Community Outreach in 2018
Darryl Boykins joined the South Bend Police Department in 1984 and rose in the ranks for the next three decades. He was named Officer of the Year in 1991 and was promoted to Chief of Police in 2007. He continued his work in the department after his demotion to Captain. He is now retired.
The South Bend Alumni Association honored Captain Darryl Boykins in November of 2018 at the annual Hall of Fame Awards. The organization granted him a Distinguished Achievement Award for his long history of community outreach as a police officer in South Bend, especially outreach to the younger generations.
Boykins helped to launch South Bend’s Police Athletic League. According to its website, the league offers boxing, tennis, football, and swimming programs for students. Hundreds of students participate each year. The boxing league is described on the site as a mentoring program; teenagers are paired with officers. The mission is to “encourage young people to value peaceful and positive ways to resolve differences and frustrations. It’s a way for youth to ‘put down’ violence and death—and ‘put on’ the boxing gloves for a better life.”
The Alumni Association published an article in Medium at the time to explain why Boykins was deserving of the reward. They explained that Boykins began working with students by running a tennis program, and it grew from there. Boykins, quoted in the article, stated that sports teach discipline and self-control and that he wantes to bring that to the city’s youth. He added that having police officers volunteer their time to interact with students was important. “They get to see police officers in a whole different realm. Even the Notre Dame students get to see us in a whole different realm. The biggest point is that connection with the community.”