INDIANAPOLIS – A judge has moved to Fort Wayne the trial of an Indianapolis police officer accused of causing a fatal 2010 crash by driving drunk.
David Bisard is charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, reckless homicide and criminal recklessness in the 2010 crash that killed 30-year-old Eric Wells and injured two others. If convicted, Bisard could face 20 or more years in prison.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for March 8 before Allen County Superior Court Judge John Surbeck.
In an order issued Thursday, Judge Grant Hawkins said that even more than two years after the accident, the case was still generating too much ongoing publicity in central Indiana for Bisard to get a fair trial there.
It appears clear this cause must be brought to trial a distance away from the Marion County media `footprint,’ Hawkins wrote in the three-page order.
The case has drawn intense local media coverage as legal snarls caused it to drag on for months and police officers’ handling of the crash scene and evidence stirred public distrust and led to disciplinary action against several high-ranking officers, including the demotion of the police chief.
I don’t think anyone who looked at this case objectively thought there could be a fair and impartial jury selected from Marion County, defense attorney John Kautzman said following Thursday’s hearing in Marion County Superior Court.
Kautzman said he was still concerned that even an Allen County jury might be tainted, but Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson said that was unlikely because the case wasn’t likely to attract as much interest in the community 100 miles from Indianapolis.
Robinson said prosecutors were comfortable with moving the case to Allen County in part because Fort Wayne is an urban area like Indianapolis, so potential jurors would be familiar with urban driving conditions, a key component of the case.
Bisard’s cruiser crashed into two motorcycles stopped at an intersection on the city’s northeast side on the morning of Aug. 6, 2010.
Robinson said she hoped the trial could be held sometime this fall.
The case has undergone a series of delays over admission of blood tests that showed Bisard had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in December that the blood tests could be admitted into evidence.
But Kautzman has said he can still challenge the blood evidence at trial in regards to its chain of custody and that the sample’s credibility before a jury also remains in doubt.
Hawkins ruled that the blood drawn from Bisard after the crash was inadmissible because it was drawn by a medical assistant, a profession not included among those listed in Indiana law that are allowed to do so in drunken driving cases. But the state Court of Appeals overturned his decision, saying legislators clearly hadn’t intended for such key evidence to be thrown out on a technicality.
Hawkins did allow prosecutors to test a second blood sample despite objections by Kautzman that it was mishandled by police technicians. The results of those tests haven’t been released.
Former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi stunned the victims and public when he dropped drunken driving charges against Bisard just days after they were filed, which he did because of the discrepancy. After taking office in 2011, Prosecutor Terry Curry refiled the charges against Bisard.
Allen County will likely provide a larger-than-normal pool of potential jurors, said Allen Superior Judge Fran Gull, who heads up the criminal division.
And Allen County’s auditor will bill Marion County’s auditor for expenses related to the trial, such as juror per diems and meals for jurors. But the cost of the courthouse staff, such as the judge and the court reporter, will be absorbed by Allen County, Gull said.
Journal Gazette reporter Rebecca S. Green contributed to this story.