IMPD chief resigns over mishandling of blood sample in Bisard case

David Bisard

Indianapolis Metro Police Department Chief Paul Ciesielski has stepped down over concerns about the way a second vial of blood was handled in the case involving IMPD Officer David Bisard. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been called in to look at the case.

Mayor Greg Ballard (R-Indianapolis) and Department of Public Safety Director Frank Straub made the announcement Tuesday afternoon.

Rick Hite will be IMPD's acting chief. Deputy Chief Valerie Cunningham, who headed up the Standards Professional Division, is on paid administrative leave. Lt. Paula Irwin, who oversaw the property room, is on paid administrative leave.

It's a stunning development concerning IMPD in one of the highest-profile criminal cases in the city's history.

David Bisard is accused of drunk driving in a crash that killed a motorcycle rider and injured two others in August 2010 while responding to a call.

On Tuesday, Mayor Greg Ballard revealed that a vial of Bisard's blood investigators were going to test to determine if the officer was drunk at the time of the crash had been mishandled. The blood had been removed from a refrigerated and secure police property room and taken to an unrefrigerated police annex.

It's the second time in the case that proper procedures were not followed after the crash. The first time, Bisard was tested on the day of the crash, but because of concerns over where the blood draw occurred, the DUI charges against him were thrown out. That first test put Bisard's blood alcohol content over twice the legal limit, something Bisard and his attorneys have denied.

Both vials of Bisard's blood samples were originally stored in the property room. The second vial of blood was moved sometime in November 2011. When prosecutors received approval to have the second vial tested by Judge Grant Hawkins last week, that's when they discovered the mishandling of the evidence.

Straub says they know who moved the blood sample, but he says it's not the chief or Valerie Cunningham. He did not say who it was.

In the wake of the controversy, the police chief has resigned but remains on the force as a captain. Two other officers have been placed on administrative leave.

After Mayor Ballard and Public Safety Director Frank Straub announced the shake-up at IMPD, Straub explained that Ballard hired him to clean up the corruption.

"The policies and practices of this department need to change. They need to be professionalized and we need to move forward and I am 100 percent committed to that. And you see these changes coming because of my leadership," said Straub.

In the weeks following the crash, Straub demoted high-ranking officers who later revealed they were ordered to a meeting by the director himself to talk about his own image.

Ballard said he was "angry and disgusted" over the mishandling of key evidence in the case.

"I was brought here to reform this department," Straub said, adding that he is still "110 percent committed" to that goal. But he also said, "Reform is a difficult process," and that the current state of the department was the result of "30 to 40 years" of neglect.

Here's how the mayor reacted when asked why Straub is not being held accountable for this latest mishap.
"This instance was strictly in the property room. There are several layers of leadership that I think should have seen this," said the mayor.

But Fraternal Order of Police President Bill Owensby is calling for director Straub's resignation.

"The director has handled this investigation from the very beginning," said Owensby. "I think he should do what he said Ciesielski did and turn his resignation in."

Instead, Straub says Rick Hite, who he hired from the Baltimore Police Department, will be acting police chief as they investigate who's responsible for the mishandling of such crucial evidence.

The chief says he accepts full responsibility for what happened. Ciesielski is a merit captain, so his interim replacement Rick Hite will decide where he goes to work.

The FBI has been called in to investigate, and possible criminal action is being considered.

Bisard's attorney responds

Officer Bisard's attorney, John F. Kautzman, released the following statement about Tuesday's developments in the case Tuesday evening:

"On behalf of David Bisard, we first reiterate our ongoing sympathy for the Wells family and Mr. and Mrs. Weekly. This case has tragically affected many families including the Bisards.

Today, we were surprised to learn that the 2nd vial of blood was removed from the IMPD property room and has remained in an unrefrigerated state for the past five months. This is particularly troublesome given that the judge previously put in place an evidence preservation order. Today's revelations regarding the mishandling of the blood sample further adds to the serious problems we have already demonstrated in court about the irregularities with the blood draw procedure itself.

There can be no doubt that that this blood sample is tainted beyond repair and a test of the blood would produce an unreliable and unusable result.

Last week, the State argued in court that it needed to further test the blood to confirm blood alcohol content accuracy. And late today, the prosecutor's office tendered a proposed order to the court asking to proceed with additional blood vial testing as if today's disclosures never occurred. The defense will again have to make appropriate filings in court to seek relief.

Perhaps most troublesome about today's alarming information is the fact that potentially exculpatory evidence has now been rendered useless.

Many questions remain unanswered including exactly who was involved in the movement of the 2nd vial of blood and when the prosecutor's office and IMPD officials became aware of the problem leading to today's announcement. We hope that a police administration that says it prides itself on transparency is forthcoming with answers to many of these questions, and that the prosecutor's office releases that information immediately."

Statement from Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry:

"During the process of requesting permission to test the second vial of blood drawn from Officer David Bisard, our office became aware that this sample had been moved from a refrigerated environment in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department property room to an unrefrigerated environment at the property room annex.  This office did not authorize or order the second vial of blood to be moved. 

We are currently working with an independent lab to clarify the implications of testing the blood from the second vial, and do not yet know if or how the blood was affected.  We do not know the events that transpired causing Officer Bisard's blood to be moved while in IMPD's custody, and we are exceedingly concerned that it occurred.  I met with the victims and victims' families this morning at 11a.m. to inform them.

At this time, we do not believe these developments will negatively impact the prosecution of this case.  Regardless of these developments, this office is continuing to move forward with the prosecution against Officer Bisard." 

Last week, a judge granted the prosecutors' request to get new DNA and alcohol tests on blood samples taken from Bisard.

The next hearing in Bisard's case is scheduled for Aug. 17.