Ind. police chief quits amid crash case
Allegations of a cover-up started shortly after the crash
By Ken Kusmer
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis' police chief resigned and two other top officers were suspended Tuesday over the latest blunder in the case of a fatal crash involving a police officer authorities believe was drunk.
The city's mayor and public safety director also called in the FBI to help restore public confidence in a police department they say has endured decades of neglect and corruption.
The developments came a day after prosecutors informed police Chief Paul Ciesielski that a key second vial of blood from Officer David Bisard had been mishandled and left unrefrigerated in a police property room annex. The revelation cast doubt about whether authorities can show Bisard was legally drunk in August 2010 when he drove into a pair of motorcycles stopped at a traffic light, killing one rider and injuring two others. Bisard is awaiting trial on reckless homicide and other charges.
"At best, this matter shows gross incompetence, at worst possible criminal intent," said Mayor Greg Ballard, who declined to elaborate.
Ciesielski was not at Tuesday's news conference and did not immediately return a message left with a department spokesman. He will remain with the department as a captain.
Public Safety Director Frank Straub placed Deputy Chief Valerie Cunningham, Lt. Paula Irwin and a civilian property room supervisor on paid leave. Deputy Public Safety Director Rick Hite, a 32-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, was sworn in as acting police chief.
Allegations of a cover-up in Bisard's case started shortly after the crash, when prosecutors announced a blood test showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 more than two hours after his squad car plowed into the motorcycles, killing 30-year-old Eric Wells and injuring two others. Many were incredulous that neither police at the scene nor the medical personnel who drew the blood and evaluated Bisard for injuries realized he was drunk. An internal police investigation found Bisard was driving 73 mph in a 40 mph zone and using a laptop computer for messages not related to police business.
Marion County Superior Court Judge Grant Hawkins last year found the first blood test was improperly administered by someone not legally certified to take the sample. Last week, Hawkins gave prosecutors permission to test a second blood sample. But prosecutor Terry Curry said his office subsequently discovered the vial was moved from the main police property room to the annex in November.
Indiana University law professor Fran Watson said the lack of refrigeration could allow defense attorneys to question its validity.
Straub was brought in by Ballard more than two years ago to reform the police department, but Bill Owensby, president of the Indianapolis chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he also should go.
"I don't know how you can run an investigation when it's going well, then hand it off when it's not going well," Owensby said.
Straub rejected such suggestions, saying problems with the department dating back half a century could not be fixed in a couple of years. He also said property room procedures have not been updated since 1980.
"This is 30 or 40 or 50 years of neglect and what I've heard from the management of the police department over and over and over again during the two years and four months that I've been here is that, `We knew this was going on, we just never bothered to fix it. We knew officers were drinking on duty. We knew that officers were going to strip clubs, but we didn't take action. We didn't hold ourselves or those officers accountable.'"
Attorney Linda Pence, who represents Wells' parents in a federal lawsuit against Bisard and the city, said the latest development confirmed her "worst presumptions."
"I'd like to say that I'm surprised, but I believe that the conduct in this case from day one was inappropriate and this confirms that it is a very deep issue within the department," Pence said.
Bisard's attorney was out of town Tuesday and didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press