The revelations that IMPD detectives were ordered last year to investigate their former chief of police and secretly tape record the David Bisard prosecutor have forced the metro police department to take a hard look at itself.
“Chief Hite is aware of the allegations made during yesterday’s hearing in the David Bisard case,” reads a statement from IMPD. “He has taken appropriate action and is in the process of gathering the facts.”
“I can tell you when I arrived there were some cases involving the police department that the chief was not aware of,” said Public Safety Troy Riggs, who was hired in October of 2012.
Chief Rick Hite was not in the Fort Wayne courtroom of Allen Superior Judge John Surbeck when Sgt. Dawn Higgins testified that she participated in secret tape recordings of two conversations with the lead prosecutor in the Bisard case, Denise Robinson.
Robinson listened to the revelations from the prosecutor’s table just 10 feet away.
Higgins said that alongside former Deputy Director of Public Safety Ellen Corcella, she recorded a phone conversation with Robinson in May of 2012 and later, secretly taped a meeting with Robinson in the conference room of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.
“I don’t know what their purpose was,” said Robinson, who failed to ask Higgins during cross examination who ordered the secret tapings. “In more than 20 years of being a prosecutor, I’ve never heard of this happening and it certainly never happened to me.”
Also seemingly unprecedented were other accounts of Higgins, a Special Investigations Unit detective, and Corcella examining vials of Bisard’s blood after it was transferred from an IMPD property room refrigerator to a shelf at an annex where it was stored at room temperature for five months.
Det. Kevin Wethington testified that he was directed by Corcella to secretly seize the Bisard investigation files from the Office of IMPD Internal Affairs.
Wethington also downloaded the emails of the lead investigator into the Bisard case, Sgt. Doug Heustis, and former Police Chief Paul Ciesielski to determine the extent of their knowledge about the blood vial transfer.
The detective said he strongly disagreed with former Public Safety Director Frank Straub’s personal order that he access Ciesielski’s emails behind the scenes.
“I think I should not be saying anything at this point,” said Wethington as he left the courtroom.
Wethington and Higgins were assigned to SIU, a branch created by Straub to investigate potential criminal activities by IMPD officers.
There’s no indication that Ciesielski or Heustis were involved in criminal activity in the Bisard blood vial transfer.
Robinson, the woman entrusted by Prosecutor Terry Curry of convicting Bisard in his October trial in the drunk driving death of motorcyclist Eric Wells, said her conversations with Higgins and Corcella would have covered trial strategy, evidence and case facts.
There is no indication that Robinson was involved in criminal activity.
From the earliest days when it was determined that Bisard’s blood vial had been transferred between property room facilities, there was no indication of criminal activity.
FBI and IMPD internal investigations found no criminal wrongdoing.
IMPD has an Internal Affairs Branch which oversees administrative complaints lodged against officers.
Riggs told Fox59 News that SIU and IA are both being examined while the police department’s disciplinary system is being reviewed.
“The first part is looking at IA and how it operates,” said Riggs. “We’re also going to dig into how we conduct investigations, what is a proper way of conducting an investigation of a criminal case.
“We want to make sure we handle criminal cases appropriately, effectively and efficiently.
“I’ve been surprised with the number of issues I’ve had to deal with, especially on the discipline side,” said Riggs, “but, I want to assure the public that internal affairs investigations were being done well for the most part.
“There are some unusual anomalies there that we’re seeing that we have to address but I can tell you moving forward, we’re going to have a process that is one of the best in the nation and based on best practices.”
Ironically, Riggs’ words echo those of Straub in September of 2010, one month after the Bisard crash and following Straub’s demotion of three top IMPD commander amid allegations that they covered up the role alcohol may have played in the crash.
Subsequent investigations and the city’s settlement of lawsuits brought by the three commanders dispute that corruption claim.
Straub continued to allege widespread corruption within IMPD through the announcement of Ciesielski’s demotion in April of 2012 when the Bisard blood vial transfer was discovered.
The director claimed he was cleaning up, “30-40-50 years,” of corruption.
When pressed about Straub’s claim, Mayor Greg Ballard’s office said announcements confirming the allegations were within days of being released.
Sources indicate that newly appointed Chief Rick Hite expressed his concerns to Ballard that such an unfounded announcement would destroy IMPD morale and when Straub was told to back off of his corruption investigations and claims, he resigned.
Riggs has placed SIU back under Hite, removing the oversight from his office.
“I think its important to protect the integrity of the case and I don’t need to be involved in the day-to-day operations as they investigate a case.”
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry is now speaking out about the controversy.
“It’s beyond infuriating,” said Curry.
Curry said he learned in late July that his lead Bisard prosecutor had been secretly taped by Corcella and SIU.
“To find out that they secretly taped those conversations is just maddening,” he said.
While Curry doesn’t think that the taping of a phone call between Robinson, Corcella and Higgins constituted illegal wiretapping, “it was indefensible, no question about it.”
Curry said he has referred his concerns to Hite and Riggs and is confident they will investigate and put safeguards into place to avoid future transgressions.
“The blurring of the lines between Special Investigations and Internal Affairs, what’s criminal and what’s administrative, and clearly there was a complete overlap there that shouldn’t have occurred and it did.
“I think the taping was clearly a CYA on their part and I don’t believe there was an investigation of our office.
“Denise was never involved in any criminal activity.”
Corcella was fired by Public Safety Director Riggs earlier this year.
Straub is now the police chief in Spokane, Wash.
Curry said property room notes record that in April of 2012 when Corcella and Higgins had access to the Bisard blood vials, “said, ‘Per Frank Straub.’ At the time, Director Straub denied that it was done at his direction.
“What is clearly without dispute is that Ellen Corcella was clearly in the middle of both of those circumstances because she pulled out the vials in the property room to exam them and she was clearly present during both times when Denise was taped.”