Judge denies police defamation claims in Indiana wiretapping

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A northern Indiana judge has ruled that a former South Bend councilman did not defame four police officers targeted in a long-running wiretapping case when he sought a federal probe of potential racial bias in the police department.

The four white South Bend police officers sued Henry Davis Jr. in 2014, alleging that he damaged their reputations with his letter to the Department of Justice, the South Bend Tribune reported.

“Henry Davis’ actions were in his individual capacity and a rouge attempt to damage the plaintiffs by said unfounded allegations,” the officers’ suit read.

But St. Joseph Superior 4 Judge Margot Reagan agreed with Davis’ defense under the anti-SLAAP law and wrote that Tim Corbett, Steve Richmond, Dave Wells and Brian Young did not provide enough proof to verify their claim.

“Because Davis Jr.’s letter to the DOJ was written in good faith to encourage a law enforcement inquiry, Davis Jr.’s letter was privileged, and this privilege completely defeats the officers’ defamation claim against him,” Reagan wrote.

The officers’ phone lines were tapped in 2010 and 2011. They sued the city, arguing the wiretap recordings were illegal, and sought to block their release. That case is ongoing.

The police tape dispute, the demotion and ultimate firing of South Bend’s first African-American police chief, Darryl Boykins, and the death of an African-American man in police custody increased the community’s concerns, according to Davis.

In July 2012, Michael Anderson died by choking while in police custody. Davis submitted his letter to the DOJ the next month.

Davis was serving on the South Bend Common Council when he sent the letter. Many of his constituents had expressed concern about police treatment of African-Americans.

The officers’ attorney, Dan Pfeifer, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Davis said in a statement he was satisfied with the court’s decision and that he received his fair day in court.

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