SOUTH BEND — High-ranking officers alleged to be on the tapes that prompted a federal investigation into the South Bend Police Department’s practice of recording phone calls broke their silence Wednesday.

They filed a federal lawsuit against the city of South Bend, former police chief Darryl Boykins, former 911 communications director Karen DePaepe and her attorney, Scott Duerring.

The lawsuit accuses Boykins of purposely recording the phone line of former detective bureau chief Steve Richmond to determine whether his division chiefs were personally loyal to him and to punish anyone who might seek his job as chief.

In January, shortly after Richmond and St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Commander Tim Corbett met with Mayor Pete Buttigieg about the position of chief, Boykins berated Richmond and threatened to fire anyone he determined to be disloyal to him based on the contents of the recordings, according to the lawsuit.

In addition to Richmond and Corbett, plaintiffs include Capt. Brian Young and his wife, Sandy Young, and Metro Homicide Assistant Commander David Wells.

A news conference to address the lawsuit took place Wednesday at the law office of Pfeifer, Morgan and Stesiak, who are representing the officers and Sandy Young. The officers were not in attendance.

The officers claim their rights were violated under the Fourth Amendment and federal statutes against city officials who “surreptitiously intercepted their telephone calls.”

Daniel Pfeifer said the officers, who remained quiet for months, were vilified to the public. The tapes have been rumored to contain comments from officers making racist comments against Boykins, who is black, and possibly illegal comments.

The tapes have not been released to the public.

“For several months the plaintiffs have not said anything at the advice of their attorneys,” Pfeifer said. “They have become villains when in fact they are the victims. They’ve been the victims all along.”

The lawsuit contends that it is well known that some of the lines in the department are recorded, but that the officers believed individual lines, including their own, were private.

On Jan. 17, according to the lawsuit, DePaepe admitted to Richmond that Boykins had her record Richmond’s line “the day he promoted you to division chief” in February 2010. However, the lawsuit continues, DePaepe discovered in February 2011 that she had been tapping Young’s line accidentally and that she successfully switched over and recorded Richmond’s line instead.

The lawsuit states that the U.S. Attorney’s Office — which was contacted by the officers after they learned their conversations were being taped — informed Buttigieg that unless Boykins resigned as chief, he would be criminally prosecuted.

Boykins allegedly told several officers that the recorded conversations contained the plaintiffs making racial slurs about him, which was reported in the media.

The lawsuit contends that Boykins admitted to Richmond that he never heard Richmond make any racial slurs in the recorded conversations, but he made that claim because his feelings were hurt.

Boykins resigned as chief on March 31, and DePaepe was fired a short time later for her alleged role. Boykins sough to rescind his resignation a day later, but Buttigieg rejected the request.

The lawsuit claims that the city maintained an unconstitutional and illegal policy of intercepting, recording and disclosing of telephone conversations of police executives.

“The acts and omissions of Boykins, DePaepe and Duerring constitute negligence, defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Indiana law,” according to the lawsuit, and claims the city is liable under the principle of “respondent superior” for the acts and omission of Boykins and DePaepe.

The plaintiffs are seeking all relief allowable by law, including compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorney fees.