IMPD officer in court over crashed cruiser

Officer Matt Elam, IMPD (left)
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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - An Indianapolis Police officer returned to court Thursday disputing charges he faces. Officer Matt Elam is accused of wrecking his squad car, then covering up the repair.

Since November, Eyewitness News has led the way on the investigation, and now the case could affect other cases across the state.

An internal police crash history obtained by 13 Investigates shows not one accident for Officer Matthew Elam over his entire 17-year career. Prosecutors say that's because after he rear-ended an SUV last July near 10th and Franklin Road, he flipped on his lights and sirens and took off.

Elam's car never came to the city's garage for repairs. Instead, Elam is accused of taking the cruiser to a private body shop for after market parts.

A grand jury indicted him for Failure to Stop and Official Misconduct. But his attorneys argued Thursday misconduct charges should be tossed out not just for him but across the state of Indiana.

"The legislature got this one wrong," said Ralph Staples, attorney.

Staples says the misconduct statute is fuzzy and could result in public officials being charged merely because of their employment.

"The charge in and of itself should not be utilized by the Marion County prosecutor or any other prosecutor because the charge is vague and basically unenforceable," said Staples.

But the state argues Elam broke a law by leaving the scene, saying as a police officer he is not only required to report the accident, but to act in the face of a crime, on duty or not.

After the Elam and David Bisard crashes, IMPD started requiring supervisors to respond to every accident involving an officer and issuing a portable breath test on the spot.

"A standard fender bender, you know, $1,000 worth of damage, that field supervisor is going to issue that PBT regardless of injury," said Deputy Chief Valerie Cunningham, IMPD Professional Standards.

It's a new measure of accountability, but it's only effective if the accident is reported.

Elam's attorney's argument is getting some consideration. A judge is reviewing the case to see if the misconduct charge is overreaching in this case.

A decision is expected in May. In the meantime, IMPD is looking for new software to better track police crashes on the heel of our ongoing investigations.