Karen DePaepe, a 25-year veteran of the department's Communications Center who spent the last 14 years as director of communications, was fired Tuesday in light of the same federal investigation into recorded phone conversations at the department that led to Darryl Boykins ouster as police chief two weeks ago.
Earlier this week, Robert Ramsey, supervisory special agent of theFBI's Northern District of Indiana in Merrillville, told The Tribune that all questions regarding the investigation were being referred to the South Bend Police Department and the office of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Ramsey indicated, however, that the feds have concluded their investigation and that the FBI has no knowledge as to who at this point is in possession of tapes and other materials recovered in the probe.
In a letter denying The Tribune's Freedom of Information Act request for disclosure of materials related to the investigation, Assistant City Attorney Ann-Carol Nash wrote:
"Any recordings or documents related to the federal investigation are in the possession of the federal authorities."
Boykins was forced to resign March 29 in light of the investigation. He rescinded his resignation the following day, but Buttigieg relieved Boykins of his chief's duties by demoting him to captain.
DePaepe said when she was called to the 14th floor of the County-City Building Tuesday afternoon to meet with interim Chief Chuck Hurley, the mayor's chief of staff Mike Schmuhl, and Rich Hill, special counsel to the mayor, "I told them I don't want to discuss the federal investigation unless my attorney was present."
Schmuhl, DePaepe said, reiterated that the mayor and his staff had met with "higher-ups from the federal bureau and the U.S. attorney.
"Then Rich Hill says, 'They have required that we make some changes.'"
Two of those changes involved personnel.
Boykins was the first personnel change made.
Hill told DePaepe she was No. 2.
"And he says ... 'We're giving you the option to resign.' And I said, 'No, I won't resign.'
"And then he said, 'OK, we'll have to terminate you."
At that, DePaepe said Schmuhl threatened to have her arrested if she spoke up about the investigation.
"He said, 'Now you understand that ... you and no one else is allowed to discuss the federal investigation or anything that was recorded,'" DePaepe said.
"And if you or anyone else does," Schmuhl insisted, according to DePaepe, "you will be arrested."
Reached by phone Wednesday night, Schmuhl declined to speak on DePaepe's firing.
"The only thing I can say," Schmuhl said, "it's city policy not to discuss personnel matters."
The mayor echoed his chief of staff's reasoning earlier in the evening when a reporter asked Buttigieg if DePaepe had been fired following his State of the City speech at the Kroc Center.
"It's the policy of the city not to comment on personnel matters," Buttigieg replied.
The mayor indicated, however, that DePaepe's firing may be the final termination related to the federal investigation.
"At this point," Buttigieg said, "I can say that I have resolved the situation to my satisfaction, and I believe this matter in terms of changes in the Police Department can be considered closed."
But to organizers of a rally outside the Kroc Center protesting the city's demotion of Boykins and the firing of the Police Department's communications director, the matter is anything but closed.
Community activist Mario Sims Jr. charged that Boykins "has been doubly victimized" by the discovery of recorded phone conversations that contained racist slurs directed toward the chief.
Sims admitted he has not heard the tapes, but that he was told of the racist content directed toward Boykins "by police officers who obviously are afraid to identify themselves" because of the threat of retaliation.
"We've been told that very explicit, very negative, very shocking racist terms are used," Sims said. "We're talking about senior police officers who have used this terminology toward the chief. This is outrageous."
The mayor's response to demote the chief and fire the communications director makes the situation more volatile, Sims contends.
"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."
DePaepe was devastated Wednesday night over the loss of her job, a firing that resulted over tapes she uncovered merely by happenstance.
"I feel I've been lied to by the city, and I don't deserve the treatment," DePaepe said.
"All I tried to do was save the city from embarrassment, when I discovered something accidentally. My intentions were to just protect the city and the Police Department.
"And nobody asked my side of it. Nobody asked me anything. They just fired me."
Staff writer Jeff Harrell: