The tragedy that forever changed the lives of countless families, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the political and criminal justice landscape of Marion County began with a routine call for assistance on the morning of August 6, 2010, by Special Deputy Joshua Herman.
“We just received information on one of our wanted subjects,” Herman radioed dispatch controllers at 11:09 a.m. “He’s in the area of 42nd and Priscilla. Can you see if there’s a car that could start toward there?”
Police had been looking for Terrance Malone, 22, on a low-level felony marijuana possession charge.
IMPD Officer David Bisard, K-17 on the radio, was just leaving his house in Lawrence.
As a K-9 officer, Bisard’s partner was in the backseat of his patrol car.
“Do you need me over there?” Bisard asked as another officer answered that Malone was riding a bicycle and may have left the area. “I’ll roll that way. Control: K-17 backing up 134 for now.”
Bisard turned on his lights and sirens, proceeded westbound on East 56th Street, cresting on the overpass above I-465 at an estimated 73 miles-per-hour.
He was seconds away from disaster.
Earlier in the morning a technician at the city’s maintenance garage noted “brake light flashing” on Bisard’s 2005 Ford Crown Victoria as he replaced the vehicle’s front brake pads.
In the minutes before the crash, Bisard utilized his mobile data terminal mounted in the front seat of his car to send messages back and forth with another officer about food at the Indiana State Fair.
That a trio of motorcyclists stopped at a light at 56th and Brendon Way South Drive was Bisard’s ultimate tragic destination might have been foretold.
On April 23, 2010, less than four months before the collision, Officer David Bisard came face-to-face with suspected bank robber Paul Sherfick in a wooded area on the city’s southside.
Sherfick was armed with an AK-47 and exchanged gunfire with three officers.
An autopsy determined Sherfick died of bullets fired by officers and one of his own.
Bisard received department-ordered counseling after the shooting.
He was counseled again a month later after receiving a one day suspension for insubordination.
In July, less than two weeks before the crash, Bisard was awarded IMPD’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor, for his role in the Sherifck shootout.
After the crash, a neighbor told Fox 59 News Bisard seemed upset following the shooting.
A subsequent investigation titled, Chief’s Detail into the Vehicle Crash of Officer David Bisard, a pair of veteran IMPD detectives, Tom Lehn and Rick Burkhardt, wrote that, “Mrs. Bisard told Sgt. Heddon that her husband drank the night before and woke up at about 0200 hrs. that morning to get ‘a drink.’ This wasn’t explained further.”
Two vials of Bisard’s blood, taken three hours after the crash at the Methodist Occupational Health Center and tested by the Indianapolis Marion County Forensic Services Agency, determined that the officer’s blood alcohol level measured between .18-.19%, more than two times the legal limit to drive.
“That’s got to be a mistake, there’s no way,” Bisard is quoted in the Burkhardt/Lehn report as telling Sgt. Craig Heddon when a detail was dispatched to Bisard’s home to relieve him of his vehicle and his K-9 on August 10th. “You have to believe me,” Bisard is quoted as telling another officer as he was transported to Community North Hospital for counseling, “I wasn’t drunk.”
Motorcyclist Eric Wells was dead. Fellow bikers Kurt Weekly and Mary Mills were hospitalized. Bisard was charged with six felony counts, including Operating a Motor Vehicle with a BAC of 0.15 or Higher Causing Death.
Bisard was suspended. Metro Police Chief Paul Ciesielski began termination proceedings and the veteran patrolman of two police departments, Indianapolis and Noblesville, turned himself in at the Arrestee Processing Center where he was released on $10,000 bond.
The officer had no comment to Fox 59 News as he rushed from the APC to a waiting SUV.
And then a tragedy for the city and the department and the Wells and Weekly and Mills families exploded in allegations of corruption, incompetence and coverup.
On August 19, 2010, Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, himself dogged by allegations of corruption, announced he was dismissing the alcohol-related charges, claiming that responding officers mishandled the initial investigation by transporting Bisard to a clinic rather than a hospital for his blood draws.
A Fox 59 investigation revealed that a recent change in state law, directing alcohol-related blood draws be taken at a hospital and not a clinic, had not been articulated during monthly IMPD training sessions by a prosecutor on Brizzi’s staff.
Retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard, author of a Court of Appeals decision, ruled that while mistakes were made in the drawing of Bisard’s blood, they were unintentional and partially the result of confusion over the new state law. Noting that Bisard’s legal counsel was present during the draw, Judge Shepard determined that the irregularities in the acquisition of the samples did not invalidate them as evidence.
Prosecutor Terry Curry, Brizzi’s successor, led the way in re-introducing the blood evidence and alcohol-related charges against Bisard.
“The one thing that would’ve been different is we would not have dismissed the alcohol-related charges,” Curry told Fox 59 News on the eve of the trial. “This was done by my predecessor. We felt that that was inappropriate and was talked about during the campaign and, obviously, we refiled those charges for that very reason so, certainly, that would have never occurred if that accident occurred when we were in office.
“Certainly there’s a cynicism, a perception that things had not been handled appropriately and I think the fact that that is a public perception, I think our office, the police department, are more attentive to details in circumstances that have arisen since the time of this accident.”
At the time of the crash, Chief Ciesielski and then-Public Safety Director Dr. Frank Straub were sitting in Straub’s office worrying about the director’s controversial public image.
“The gist of the conversation was on the director’s part, ‘No one likes or supports me,'” Ciesielski said during a deposition taken in October of 2012 as the chief, the former director, Mayor Greg Ballard and the city were being sued by three demoted police commanders.
Assistant Chief Darryl Pierce, Major John Conley and Deputy Chief Ron Hicks were summoned to the scene of the crash. Email, text, phone and radio dispatch records obtained by Fox 59 News proved the commanders reported among themselves and Ciesielski the seriousness of the crash and followed generally accepted, if not contradictory, IMPD procedures in launching the initial investigation.
Alcohol was not suspected at the scene by the more than dozen police officers, emergency medical crews and civilian witnesses which included the chaplain of the Metropolitan Police Department.
It was Conley’s decision, as commander at the scene, to send Bisard to the Methodist Occupational Health Clinic for his blood draw.
Conley later said he was aware that the victims and their relatives would be treated at the Methodist Hospital Emergency Room and he wished to avoid a confrontation between victims and police officers.
A Fox 59 News investigation revealed that Ciesielski and Straub, while aware of the crash during their meeting, did not send staff to the scene or inquire of the circumstances on East 56th Street.
75 minutes after the accident, Ciesielski alerted Hicks and Pierce and Deputy Chief William Benjamin they were due in his office at one p.m. for a meeting unrelated to the crash.
Ciesielski announced he would be holding a three p.m. news conference to defend Dr. Straub against allegations of micromanaging the department and destroying morale and he wanted his top commanders to lend their support.
Pierce, Hicks and Benjamin told the chief they would stand by silently as he publicly supported his boss.
Pierce said Ciesielski ignored all attempts to discuss the Bisard crash.
The Bisard crash was not addressed during the news conference.
By the following Monday morning Brizzi would call Ciesielski with the results of Bisard’s blood alcohol test.
Immediately the search for mistakes and holding of those perceived to be accountable began.
“Members of my leadership team failed me,” said Ciesielski on August 21st as he announced the demotions of Pierce, Hicks and Conley.
“People are upset and they have a right to be upset,” said Ballard who chastised Bisard’s fellow officers for not monitoring the well being of their co-worker despite two previous referrals to a department counselor who cleared Bisard for return to duty.
Ballard invoked his own experiences as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marines.
Ciesielski later testified that the day before the demotions he attempted to deliver the results of his own internal investigation to Straub regarding the actions of the commanders but, “his (Straub’s) mind was made up.” Ciesielski said Ballard was present at the meeting but instead of overruling his public safety director and avoiding a rush to judgement, the mayor counseled Straub to, “sleep on it.”
Earlier this year, as the result of a lawsuit, the city settled with each commander for $75,000 in damages due to their demotions.
Pierce has retired. Conley is currently the Southeast District Commander succeeding Hicks who was promoted to Assistant Chief.
Upon Hicks’ promotion to district commander, approximately a year after his Bisard-related demotion, Ballard told Fox 59 News that Hicks had essentially rehabilitated himself and his career.
Meanwhile, after his initial arrest following the fatal crash, Bisard reportedly sent out a blistering text message to some of his former colleagues who felt failed to support him.
“I am so displeased with the k9 unit save for 2 people,” read the message obtained by Fox 59 News. “u guys don’t believe in me at all…i am innocent & u all have let outside people influence ur opinions of me…i haven’t heard from any of you except for the 2. I sent this to you because I had a lot of respect for you before all of this and I don’t care if you spread it around the unit but you had better relay my innocence because that is what i am INNOCENT.”
Eric Wells’ family believed from the start that IMPD officers covered up for one of their own.
“They know what was going on,” said Aaron Wells, Eric’s father. “They knew it from the minute they got there.
“This whole case smells of corruption.”
Ryan Wells, Eric’s brother, named names.
“Chief Ciesielski. Frank Straub. Mayor Ballard….Put all these people responsible where they belong…right in the same prison cell that Bisard belongs in.”
Bisard has remained in a Marion County Jail cell since April 27th when he was arrested in Lawrence for crashing a pick up truck into a utility pole.
Inside the truck was an open bottle of Dark Eyes vodka.
Inside Bisard was a blood alcohol level of .22%.
Judge John Surbeck, the Fort Wayne judge appointed to hear Bisard’s fatal crash case, ordered the officer held pending his trail in Allen Superior Court.
After the April arrest, Defense Attorney John Kautzman offered the following statement:
“The Bisard family first and foremost wants to again extend their ongoing sympathies to the Wells, Weekly and Mills families.
“Accountability for his actions, legal or otherwise, rests solely with David.
“While we continue to believe that the evidence proves the conduct in 2010 was not criminal, the fact remains that the lives of numerous people have been changed forever.”
Following his second arrest the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #86, which already invested a reported $400,000 in Bisard’s defense, withdrew its funding of the officer’s legal team.
The defense has submitted a witness list of 113 persons, including 12-15 whom Kautzman says will testify that they did not detect a hint of alcohol on Bisard’s breath or intoxication in his demeanor that day.
The prosecution has a list of 70 witnesses it may call to the stand.
One of the witnesses will certainly be Kenneth Simpson, the city mechanic who put brake pads on Bisard’s car the morning of the crash.
“The Bisard Crash”, the city’s definitive review of the accident, notes that, “Sgt. Doug Heustis determined, during the reconstruction that he performed, that the ABS system had failed…and was a factor in the crash.”
“We have printouts from the car’s power train control module showing the brakes failed,” Bisard’s attorney John Kautzman told Fox 59 News. “Plus some other documents.”
Judge Surbeck has indicated that while he may allow some evidence and testimony regarding IMPD’s investigation of the case, which includes an unauthorized probe by Straub’s staff into the handling of Bisard’s blood vials, he would not extend unlimited latitude into examination of the department’s conduct.
“That’s a news conference you can call some other day in Indianapolis,” the judge told attorneys.
The case was moved to Fort Wayne due to extensive pre-trial publicity.
“From our perspective, while we’re certainly going to get into what IMPD did and didn’t do,” said lead prosecutor Denise Robinson, “the real point of this trial is the proof of David Bisard’s guilt.
“Whether IMPD should’ve done something different or whether IMPD as an organization should’ve handled something differently, the judge is right…that’s not why we’re here.
“We’re not here to try IMPD. We’re here to try David Bisard.
Some 300 potential jurors were summoned. Judge Surbeck told attorneys he expected half of them would report to court beginning Monday for jury selection while others were summarily dismissed for family, health or job-related reasons.
Beginning at nine a.m., in Allen Superior Court 5, an ornate wood-paneled courtroom accentuated in green-foam tinted marble with murals painted on high, Judge Surbeck will swear in potential jurors, six at a time, to tell the truth regarding their feelings toward the charges facing the defendant and their availability to sit through what is expected to be a four-week long trial.
Judge Surbeck said jury selection will take two days with opening statements set for Wednesday morning followed by the first witnesses for the state.
At some point jurors will hear radio dispatch audio tapes, previously reported by Fox 59 News, that will paint a picture of the pain and confusion and horror that accompanied the crash on East 56th Street that sunny Friday morning more than three years ago.
“I need a medic,” K-17, Officer David Bisard, told a dispatcher at 11:20.53 a.m. “Rush to 56 and Brendon Park Way. Been involved in a PI accident. I’ve hit a motorcycle. There’s two people down. Actually there’s three people down.
“People are critical here.”
Sgt. Jeff Peterson was the first supervisor to arrive at the crash scene.
He told investigators he saw Bisard leaning over one of his victims.
“Stay with me buddy! Stay with me buddy!” Peterson told investigators Bisard implored the downed man.
Bisard was led away to retrieve an unsearched black bag from his car and turn his dog over to another officer.
“Do you need me to come get your dog?” asks Officer Mark Archer over the radio.
“I don’t know,” answers a distraught Bisard who then changes his mind. “Come here if you would. Please.”