Former high-ranking Indy public safety official to sue over firing

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INDIANAPOLIS – A woman who emerged as a central figure in the controversy over evidence in the David Bisard case intends to sue the city over her firing.

Ellen Corcella filed a tort claim against the city declaring her intent to sue. Corcella is the former Chief of Professional Standards for the city of Indianapolis. She was fired in March 2013, and seeks $75,000 in salary and benefits as well as damages for mental anguish and emotional distress.

Bisard was involved in a crash in August 2010 that killed motorcyclist Eric Wells and severely injured two others. He’s accused of driving drunk, and his trial is scheduled to start in October.

According to the tort claim, Corcella says she was hired by the city to investigate the mishandling of blood evidence in the Bisard case, specifically Vial Two. She reported directly to former Public Safety Director Frank Straub and was hired after consulting firm Altegrity Security Consulting found problems within the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department after auditing the department’s internal affairs procedures. Corcella was tasked with implementing and monitoring Altegrity’s recommendations regarding IMPD procedures.

Corcella said she hit repeated brick walls while trying to investigate the circumstances surrounding Vial Two of Bisard’s blood draw. The vial had been left unrefrigerated in a property room annex, and the integrity of the blood sample was in question.

According to the tort claim, “instead of allowing (Corcella) to conduct the investigation to determine if ‘fraud,’ ‘mismanagement,’ ‘misconduct,’ ‘corruption,’ and/or ‘illegal activities’ were involved” in the handling of the vial, “(Marion County Prosecutor Terry) Curry and Ryan Vaughn, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, injected themselves into (Corcella’s) ‘independent’ investigation.” Corcella claims Curry delivered a letter to the mayor by hand demanding her removal and made “defamatory statements… to the news media, city officials and the public.”

But problems at IMPD went beyond the Bisard case, Corcella claims. She tried to get access to internal affairs reports, but her requests were repeatedly ignored. When she finally gained access to the records, she found open cases dating back to 2009 and 2010. She said the chief, assistant chief and city officials continually rebuffed her requests for information.

The tort claim said Corcella’s investigation found a series of abuses by IMPD officers, including “tasing citizens in the back,” using derogatory names for women, “engaging in sexual harassment and showing pornography to subordinates while on duty.” The document also said officers ran their own businesses while on duty and used IMPD’s system to “find prostitutes who had been arrested in order to solicit sex.”

Corcella said none of the officers at the center of those allegations had been disciplined as of her firing in March 2013.

After Straub stepped down as public safety director, Troy Riggs took over the position. While Riggs met with every male chief for reviews and discussions about goals, the tort claim said he stripped her of her authority and turned her into “an overpaid administrative assistant.” She was placed in charge of the city’s efficiency teams, but Corcella said her role was effectively that of a secretary. She sent emails, created the groups, scheduled meetings and put together binders.

“After being put off for months by Riggs regarding her job duties,” the tort claim said, Corcella requested her official job description from Human Resources and pointed out that her job did not include administrative work. She says she was not able to perform her job as Chief of Professional Standards yet the city “could still hold her responsible for failures within her Official Job Description even though she had no actual authority.”

During a meeting on March 1, 2013, Corcella said Deputy Director Val Washington stated, “you’re terminated.” She asked that her termination be put on hold, and met with several officials including Vaughn, Washington and Riggs on March 14. She then received a letter dated March 15 informing her she’d been terminated. Corcella said she received the letter on March 20.

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