Indianapolis officer charged again in fatal crash

/ Source: The Associated Press

On his way to help serve a warrant last August, Officer David Bisard's police cruiser smashed into two motorcycles, leaving one rider dead and two others seriously injured.

A few days later, a blood test revealed a possible reason for the wreck: Bisard's blood-alcohol level was still more than twice the legal limit hours after the crash. The local prosecutor filed charges, only to drop them a few weeks later, saying the blood test hadn't been properly done and couldn't be used in court.

Officers and emergency medical personnel at the scene said they had no reason to suspect Bisard had been drinking that morning, and no breath test had been done. The case, which rocked Indianapolis and led to emotional allegations of a cover-up, was revived this week when a new prosecutor re-filed drunken driving charges. The question for families and victims now is whether the charges will stick despite what police admit was a bungled investigation.

If they do, Bisard could face 20 years or more in prison. His attorney, John Kautzman, says his client maintains his innocence, and a judge entered a not guilty plea for him Friday.

Allegations of a cover-up started shortly after the Aug. 6 crash, when prosecutors announced the blood test showed Bisard had a blood-alcohol level of .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.

"I think if it would have been anyone else that would have hit this man on his motorcycle it would have been handled totally different," said Ann Miller, 40, who lives in nearby Lapel and has posted messages on a Facebook page set up to seek punishment for Bisard. "I think they would still be in jail and waiting on trial and they probably would be heading to prison. And it shouldn't happen this way."

Hundreds of motorcyclists flocked to downtown Indianapolis over several weekends for protests against Bisard and vigils for the victims.

The outrage grew when then-Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi announced he was dropping drunken driving charges because the blood test was improperly administered and he didn't think it could be admitted as evidence. Indiana law requires blood samples to be taken in a hospital by someone legally certified to do so. Instead, a lab technician drew Bisard's blood at a clinic where officers usually go after they are injured.

Brizzi's decision left Bisard, who had been praised by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for making dozens of drunken driving arrests, facing only a reckless homicide charge. He has been suspended without pay since shortly after the crash but has been free on bond.

Brizzi's successor, Terry Curry, promised to review the case during his successful campaign for prosecutor, and he re-filed the drunken driving charges Wednesday. Curry said he thinks they will hold up, but he acknowledged it will be a fight and Bisard will probably appeal before the case even goes to trial.

"Obviously, a court will tell us who was right," Curry said.

Joel Schumm, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, said he thought it was reasonable to re-file the charges and he was surprised when Brizzi dismissed them so quickly. Such decisions are usually left to a judge, he said.

Brizzi likened the case to that of O.J. Simpson, saying either side could win.

The Bisard case has been another black mark for a police department already suffering an image crisis after several officers ran afoul of the law and the highly publicized beating of a teenager. Police Chief Paul Ciesielski, a 23-year veteran who was named top cop last February, has pledged to clean up the department.

Three top officers who responded to the crash have been demoted, and Public Safety Director Frank Straub admonished police recruits in November to remember they are "centurions" whose duty is to protect both the public and the integrity of their department.

Mayor Greg Ballard said officials are working to restore trust in the city's police, including releasing the results of an internal probe that concluded the crash investigation was botched but found no evidence of a cover-up.

"That was very painful," Ballard said. "Frankly, it was very disturbing, all the speculation leading up to that."

The city has implemented stricter alcohol policies for police, including encouraging officers to report colleagues who may have drinking or drug problems and banning alcohol consumption within eight hours of starting a shift.

Ballard acknowledged that some people will always believe police covered for Bisard. But he contends the release of the internal investigation "was really the beginning of the healing process."

That may be a tough sell with Karen Weekly, whose son, Kurt Weekly, 44, suffered severe brain trauma in the crash and struggles to speak. His passenger, Mary Mills, 48, also was seriously injured and faces a long recovery.

"Some days, it's really hard when you realize that it was caused by one person's bad decision," Karen Weekly said. "Now life is such a struggle."