FORT WAYNE, Ind.– When a top ranking Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer left the Allen County courthouse Wednesday after being admonished by a judge for emails he authored about the David Bisard trial, it was the latest glitch for the police department in the fatal drunk driving case against one of its officers.
Major Greg Bieberich had no comment to reporters in Fort Wayne following his admission that he wrote emails to top IMPD brass about the testimony heard thus far in the case against the officer accused in the 2010 death of a motorcyclist.
As the number two man in the department’s investigations division, Bieberich told Fox 59 News last week that his role was to coordinate the appearances of officers as witnesses during the trial.
Tuesday night, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry told Public Safety Director Troy Riggs that Bieberich’s emails were being circulated to other members of the department and potentially at least one police witness in the case.
Fox 59 News has learned that a command officer who had already testified in the trial was seated in the gallery of the Fort Wayne courtroom Tuesday when he became aware of Bieberich’s note-taking and recalled that he had received emails originating from Bieberich about previous testimony of other witnesses in the case.
Those emails were shared with Chief Rick Hite and other top commanders, including an Internal Affairs investigator, and consisted of a synopsis of the trial, similar to media web postings.
Bieberich’s accounts might have been intended to detail officers’ testimony to determine if it was consistent with previous statements given to investigators, revealed any new information or was less forthcoming than previous accounts.
A potential conflict exists as the Bieberich emails originated with a supervisor of detectives from the same department that employed and investigated Bisard and those emails were distributed internally to at least one police officer on a witness list.
Such shared knowledge would violate Judge John Surbeck’s order that witnesses be separated to avoid independent knowledge of previous trial testimony.
For instance, retired IMPD Lieutenant Darryl Pierce told reporters upon leaving the courtroom last week that he could not comment, even as a former member of the department, as he was admonished by the Court to not discuss his testimony.
A source told Fox 59 News that the command officer in the gallery approached lead prosecutor Denise Robinson with his observations about Bieberich’s note-taking and emails after court adjourned Tuesday afternoon.
Public Safety Director Riggs said it was possible that the city’s Office of Corporation Counsel may have simultaneously learned of the emails and advised the prosecutor’s office of the potential contamination of IMPD witnesses.
Riggs told Fox 59 News, “I am disappointed in learning this, but I promised Prosecutor Curry that we would assist his staff and be at his disposal as we continue to look into this.”
The director said his staff did an initial search of emails and sent that information to Curry’s office and has launched a second search for additional transmissions.
Riggs said it was unclear if Bieberich initiated the extent of his emails distribution or if another officer received and passed on his information.
On behalf of Chief Hite and Mayor Greg Ballard’s office, IMPD spokesman Lt. Chris Bailey issued the following statement:
“We are working with the court on this matter.”
Today’s developments mark the third time in just over a week that Judge Surbeck has made rulings regarding potential contamination of juror or witness issues.
On the opening night of jury selection, Oct. 14, a panel of six potential jurors was dismissed when a man in the group began discussing details of the case, including Bisard’s arrest for a DUI accident in Lawrence in April of this year.
Before the jury was seated on the first day of the trial, a selected juror told Judge Surbeck that a co-worker informed him of details of the case.
In both cases, Judge Surbeck dismissed the juror and potential jurors, saying, “it just doesn’t feel right,” to start a trial compromised as privileged information was prematurely divulged.
Then this afternoon, another juror was dismissed for work-related reasons, leaving only one alternate to support the jury of seven women and five men to hear a case that was moved to Fort Wayne due to extensive pre-trail publicity in Indianapolis.
The judge may be forced to sequester the jury, drawn from Allen County, to prevent any other dismissals.
Judge Surbeck said he would explore whether Bieberich’s emails would have an impact on potential witnesses.
One solution would be to strike any recipients of the emails from the witness list.
Bieberich has been removed from the courtroom.
Riggs indicated that issues surrounding the Bisard case are indicative of the changes that are needed within IMPD which include revamping training, discipline and internal affairs.
Sources tell Fox 59 News that Chief Hite is awaiting the completion of the Bisard trial to launch a shake-up of the department’s top ranks and possible reassignment of a civilian working in the IMPD Property Branch.
Already positions in the controversial IMPD Special Investigations Unit have been posted for applicants as the current roster of detectives will be reassigned.
SIU detectives took part in an internal review and wrote a report for then-Public Safety Director Frank Straub about IMPD’s Bisard investigation, raising the ire of Prosecutor Curry who complained to Mayor Ballard in May of 2012 that the secret probe potentially compromised the case and evidence.
An SIU detective admitted surreptitiously tape recording conversations with the lead prosecutor in the case.
Judge Surbeck has directed both the prosecution and the defense to keep their evidence and testimony about IMPD’s internal problems to a minimum in this trial.
“Who’s writing the damn emails?” a clearly irritated judge asked the courtroom today when he was advised of Bieberich’s reports.
“Its about as unprofessional as anything I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot of things about the IMPD,” said Judge Surbeck who threatened to call Chief Hite to witness stand to explain to his satisfaction the circumstances of the emails distribution.
Prosecutor Curry told reporters it was up to the Court to decide if the emails disclosure rose to a potential mistrial issue, but Robinson said she did not think that it jeopardized completion of the trial.
On Thursday the prosecution is expected to introduce an animation and video shot on East 56th Street at Brendon Way South Drive to approximate for jurors the conditions that existed on the morning of August 6, 2010, when Officer Bisard’s patrol car slammed into a trio of motorcyclists in excess of 60 miles per hour, killing Eric Wells.
A source indicates that the videotaping of another officer attempting to re-create the speed of Bisard’s crash was hampered by his inability to safely reach 73 mph on a closed stretch of East 56th Street as prosecutors claim Bisard did that day while also text messaging a fellow officer on the mobile data terminal in his patrol car.
Jurors have seen an aerial photograph of the vicinity just west of the I-465 overpass and Lawrence Central High School where Bisard would have passed through a 25 mph school zone on his way to what became the crash scene.
What the aerial photograph can’t portray is the slight uphill climb and downhill slope at the highway overpass.
The stoplight where the crash occurred is more than a full city block west of the interchange where the pavement is at least four lanes wide.
Bisard told investigators that he tried to stop his vehicle but the brakes failed. A long skid mark was visible at the accident scene.
A commander testified that in the event of anti-braking system failure, officers are taught alternative driving skills in controlling their vehicles.