ALLEN COUNTY – Before the jury could be sworn in, before opening statements were made, before the first witnesses to the tragedy on East 56th Street more than three years ago were heard, a juror was excused from participating in the fatal drunk driving trial of Metro police officer David Bisard.
Juror No. 35, seat 9, informed the staff of Allen Superior Judge John Surbeck this morning that he needed to tell the Court about a conversation he had with a co-worker after he was selected to sit on the jury Monday.
The man told Judge Surbeck that at a board meeting of his company, as his boss explained to other employees that he would be excused from work for the duration of the trial, a vice president of his firm told the juror he was happy for his service on the panel. The juror said he cut off the co-worker, but overheard other conversations as the employee talked with another worker and said that because his own relative worked with Bisard he believed that the officer was guilty of the fatal drunk driving crash and that IMPD had an “epidemic” of drinking, that Bisard’s wife had left him and that the officer was involved in a second drunk driving-related arrest in April of this year.
Surbeck quizzed the juror as to his ability to set aside that information and retain an open mind regarding the evidence and Bisard’s presumed innocence.
The juror said he could and was excused from the courtroom as the judge and attorneys debated his further participation in the trial.
Lead prosecutor Denise Robinson suggested that the juror be moved to alternate status.
The jury is already beginning this trial with only three alternates, one less than typical.
Defense co-counsel Robert Gevers told Surbeck that other potential jurors had been excused for possessing similar information.
“We have worked so long and so hard to keep information out that Juror 35 now knows about,” said Gevers.
“The whole thing doesn’t feel right to start out a step down, so to speak, and it certainly was not his fault and he has been professional in handling this, so, I am going to excuse him and replace him,” he said.
The man was called back into the courtroom and excused and reassured that the Court appreciated his professionalism in reporting the encounter.
An alternate juror was selected, balancing the panel between six men and six women, and the jury was advised as to the circumstances surrounding Juror 35’s departure.
“The juror who was excused did nothing wrong,” said the judge, “but had information forced on him by other folks. You are in effect celebrities so people will want to talk to you about it as you are out and about and the gentleman who was excused tried to stop the conversation that was forced upon him.”
With that, the new jury was sworn in, Surbeck read the nine charges lodged against Bisard and the language of the law governing those charges as the jury and the defendant followed along on their own copies of the charging information and the trial began as the family of motorcyclist Eric Wells watched from the front row of the courtroom, an aisle removed from Bisard’s own family.