From crash to court: David Bisard's drunken driving case

Bisard on trial more than 3 years after crash

Suspended IMPD Officer David Bisard will go on trial Oct. 14, more than three years after he crashed into four motorcyclists, killing one and injuring two others.

Since the crash, and leading up to the trial, the case has taken numerous twists and turns. 

 

The crash

On the morning of Friday, Aug. 6, 2010, Bisard took his police cruiser to the sheriff's garage for preventative maintenance. After that, investigators said, Bisard drove his children to a soccer camp. Then, he began his workday.

Just after 11 a.m., Bisard responded to a request for assistance serving a felony warrant.

Three motorcycles were stopped at the light at 56th Street and Brendon Way South Drive when Bisard came up behind them with his lights and sirens on.

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View E 56th St & Brendon Way Dr in a larger map http://bit.ly/1hA3mzK

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The officer swerved to avoid the motorcycles, but ended up striking two of the bikes, police said.

Driver Eric Wells, 30; driver Kurt Weekly, 44; and passenger Mary Mills, 47, were transported to Methodist Hospital.

George Burt, 57, was the only motorcyclist involved in the incident to walk away from the crash.

Wells was pronounced dead a short time later. Weekly was listed as critical but stable, but would be in a coma for weeks to come.

Mills was listed in serious condition with fractures to her shoulder, collarbone, ribs, pelvis, vertebrae, leg and ankle, along with severe road rash.

"She is severely broken. Almost every bone in her body is broken. She has so many injuries that it's unimaginable," Mills' daughter, Aja Margerum, told RTV6 shortly after the crash. "It's going to be a very long road."

"It's going to be a very long road."
-- Aja Margerum, Mary Mills' daughter | Aug. 14, 2010

 

Bisard was not injured in the crash, but he was taken to an outpatient clinic about two hours after the collision for a department-required blood draw.

 

Immediate aftermath

Four days after the crash, it was revealed that Bisard's blood test showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal limit.

"We are currently working with the prosecutor's office after learning the results of the blood draw for alcohol have tested positive on Officer David Bisard," IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski said in an official statement. "The investigation into the crash continues and we will be consulting with the prosecutor's office tomorrow to determine what charges may be filed."

People began asking questions about Bisard and his fellow officers, wondering if he had a drinking problem and if so, who was aware.

George Burt believed others may have known Bisard had a potential drinking problem.

"Did somebody else know about that problem? Did a brother officer know this guy was drinking?" Burt asked.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard apologized on behalf of the city to the families involved in the crash.

He said he talked to police supervisors, telling them that someone should have known Bisard was drunk and/or had a drinking problem.

"I've been leading people for over 30 years, and I'm confident that someone knew of the human weakness that was present, yet failed to act or inform others," Ballard said in August 2010.

Others came to Bisard's defense.

 

"No one has ever seen any sign of
(Bisard) needing intervention."
-- FOP President Bill Owensby | Aug. 12, 2010

 

"I certainly don't know what goes on behind closed doors, but I can tell you that I've talked to many officers that ... worked with him, that were close to him, and no one has ever seen any sign of needing intervention," FOP President Bill Owensby said.

 

Charges filed

Prosecutor Carl Brizzi charged Bisard with seven felonies on Aug. 11, 2010, five days after the crash.

The charges included: operating while under the influence causing death, a Class B felony; operating while under the influence causing death, a Class C felony; reckless homicide, a Class C felony; and four counts of operating while under the influence causing serious injury, Class C felonies.

Bisard turned himself in later that day, and he was suspended from IMPD.

"This was a shock to us," Ciesielski said. "I can tell you that this is being treated like any other person. The investigation is all above board."

 

"The investigation is all above board." 
-- IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski | Aug. 11, 2010

 

After the charges were filed, more details about the crash began to emerge.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Bisard was driving between 65 miles per hour and 70 miles per hour in a 40 mile-per-hour zone at the time of the crash.

It was also discovered that Bisard had violated the department's Emergency Vehicle Operations policy.

Under IMPD policy, department vehicles are to be operated under emergency conditions only when the officer is responding to a reported or confirmed emergency situation.

Defense

lawyer Robert Hammerle, who is not connected to Bisard's case, said it is clear Bisard violated the department's policy by using his lights and sirens while responding to a non-emergent call.

"Without attacking anyone, (serving Malone's warrant) wouldn't constitute an emergency under any set of circumstances," he said.

Details of a new allegation against Bisard came to light Aug. 13, 2010, when Weekly's attorney, Bruce Kehoe, said a credible witness saw Bisard purchase a large jug of cheap vodka at a CVS store within 48 hours of the crash while he was in uniform.

The CVS store was later ordered to preserve its surveillance footage.

 

Charges dropped

At the same time the case against Bisard was mounting, it was also crumbling.

Just two days after the crash, the defense was raising questions about the validity of Bisard's blood draw.

 

"The state is going to have a very difficult time being allowed to introduce that blood draw into evidence
in a criminal charge."
-- Defense lawyer Jack Crawford | Aug. 13, 2010

 

"If they didn't have a search warrant and Officer Bisard did not give a valid legal consent for the use of that evidence against him in a criminal case, the state is going to have a very difficult time being allowed to introduce that blood draw into evidence in a criminal charge," said defense lawyer Jack Crawford, who is not involved in Bisard's case.

The blood draw questions would continue to play a pivotal role in the legal proceedings.

Read: Bad blood: Is evidence against David Bisard flawed?  http://bit.ly/17jRflA

On Aug. 19, 2010, it was announced that the four counts of operating while under the influence, causing serious injury and one charge of operating while under the influence, causing death, would be dropped.


"Our investigation failed." 
-- Public Safety Director Frank Straub | Aug. 19, 2010

 

Brizzi said he decided to drop charges because the blood draw was improperly taken and would not be admissible.

As a result of the dropped charges, Bisard's suspended driver's license was reinstated.

"Our investigation failed," Public Safety Director Frank Straub said. "We are embarrassed."

Newly elected prosecutor Terry Curry announced in January 2011 that he would re-file alcohol-related charges against Bisard. Curry said he believed the admissibility of the blood results should ultimately be determined by a judge, not by his predecessor, Brizzi.

The next month, the defense filed a motion to again dismiss the alcohol-related charges.

An Indiana Appeals Court ruling in September 2012 decided the blood evidence could be used to support a drunken-driving charge. When the Indiana Supreme Court refused the defense's request to hear the case, the September 2012 decision stood.

 

IMPD turmoil

After it became clear that the investigation was flawed, the FBI was called in to investigate, and the Department of Public Safety launched an internal investigation.

The 47-page internal report, released Nov. 11, 2010, concluded that poor crash scene management and conflicting department policies led to the botched investigation.

Ultimately, the report determined: "The crash was preventable."

Roles at the crash scene were not clearly defined, and the Fatal Alcohol Crash Team was not asked to respond, authorities said.

 

"There is an appearance that something was amiss,
and I'm not going to sugarcoat it."
-- Prosecutor Carl Brizzi | Aug. 19, 2010

 

"Officers are able to detect the odor of alcoholic beverages from several feet away; identify slurred speech, identify glassy eyes. I am frustrated, because there is an appearance that something was amiss, and I'm not going to sugarcoat it," Brizzi said.

The Rev. Stephen Clay, president of the Baptist Minister's Alliance, also raised questions about the investigation.

"You can smell onions on a person's breath. You can smell chocolate on a person's breath. But the public is asked to believe that these officers who stop and identify drunk drivers on a daily basis had no clue as to whether this officer was intoxicated or not?" he asked. "I'll tell you what we smell, is another attempt by IMPD to cover up for one of their own."

In the wake of the revelations about the investigation, Straub said he believed it would take several years to renew the public's trust in the department.

Several IMPD leaders were removed from their positions as a result of the Bisard investigation.

Lt. George Crooks was removed as leader of the Fatal Alcohol Crash Team, a division that investigates fatal crashes that are the result of drunken driving.

Commander John Conley, Deputy Chief Ron Hicks and Assistant Chief Darryl Pierce were stripped of their command and returned to ranks of lieutenant.

All three top police leaders were on the scene after Bisard's crash.

"They've been demoted in rank for failure to take leadership at the scene and for failure to keep their top commanders above them appropriately advised of the circumstances at the scene," Straub said.

But it wasn’t long before people started pointing fingers

at Straub, starting with Democratic City-County counselors and mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy . Ministers joined in the criticism .

Straub announced in April 2012 his plan to resign, but he maintained his resignation had nothing to do with the Bisard investigation.

That same month, Ciesielski resigned his police chief position after it was discovered that a second vial of blood drawn shortly after Bisard's crash was mishandled by police.

Deputy Chief Valerie Cunningham, who oversaw the internal Bisard investigation, stepped down as the head of the department's Professional Standards Division and was placed on administrative leave.

Lt. Paula Irwin and Teresa Brockbrader, a civilian employee, were also placed on administrative leave.

 

Change of venue

Bisard's case received a lot of attention from the start, prompting the defense to request a change of venue on Aug. 20, 2010.

After delaying the decision for years, Judge Grant Hawkins decided in July 2012 to move the trial out of Marion County.

Allen County was chosen for the trial, and Allen Superior Judge John F. Surbeck, Jr., will hear the case.

Surbeck has set aside four weeks for the trial, beginning Monday.

 

Additional lawsuits

Just six days after the crash, Mills' attorneys notified Indianapolis that they planned to sue for damages in the crash. An attorney representing Weekly filed a tort claim notice a couple weeks later, announcing they'd be seeking damages in excess of $700,000.

That December, the Wells family filed a suit against the City of Indianapolis, IMPD and Bisard.

Among expenses detailed in the Wells' claim were $14,000 in funeral expenses, more than $2,800 in hospital bills and more than $7,000 for Wells' motorcycle.

Wells' wife planned to seek $2.5 million in compensation for the loss of her husband, considering what he would have made at his job over his lifetime.

Weekly and Mills filed their suit against Indianapolis, IMPD and Bisard in October 2011.

The law firm representing the estate of Eric Wells reached a $1.55 million settlement in June 2012.

That October, the city agreed to pay a $2.3 million settlement to Mills and Weekly. The settlement includes $1.35 million for Weekly and $975,000 for Mills for injuries, medical costs, legal fees, pain and suffering, property damage and lost earnings from missing work.

Pierce, Hicks and Conley sued over their demotions.

"We were thrown under the bus for the mere fact that they needed to take some of the pressure off of them and the department, and what better way to do it than to remove some high officials from the police department, but we did absolutely nothing wrong," Pierce said in September 2011.

The city settled the suits with the demoted officers in May 2013, giving $175,000 for the officers to split.

 

Another crash

On April 27, 2013, Bisard was taken to the hospital for a blood draw after he was involved in another crash on the city's northeast side.

A police report confirmed that Bisard took a portable breathalyzer test and blew 0.17 percent, which is more than twice the legal limit.

Police said Bisard kept repeating that he was guilty of driving drunkenly in the crash, but he was not drinking on the day of "that other crash."

Two days after his arrest, Bisard was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent or greater.

Prosecutors filed paperwork to revoke Bisard's bond on the 2010 crash, and Judge Surbeck honored the request.

Surbeck said Bisard's second arrest demonstrated "instability" and that Bisard posed a threat to the health and safety of the community.

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