FORT WAYNE – On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, about 150 potential jurors will head to the Allen County Courthouse to learn whether they will be selected to decide the fate of suspended Indianapolis police officer David Bisard.
Bisard, 39, stands trial this week in Allen Superior Court before Judge John Surbeck. His case was moved to Fort Wayne because of the extensive publicity in the Indianapolis area.
Charged with reckless homicide, operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death and criminal recklessness, Bisard is accused of driving his squad car into the back of a pair of motorcycles stopped at a stop light in 2010.
One of the bikers, 30-year-old Eric Wells, was killed and two others were injured.
The presence of the case in Allen County will be noticeable for those who intend to use the Courthouse for the next month – the scheduled length of the trial.
A legal mess
Though Bisard was charged in 2011, the case has been delayed many times over the admission of blood tests showing Bisard’s blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.
Bisard had been free on bond until April, when officers were called to a narrow road in the Lawrence area one afternoon in reference to a pickup truck that had crashed into a guardrail.
The driver, Bisard, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 percent and a two-thirds empty bottle of Dark Eyes vodka in the back seat, police said.
In addition to the reckless homicide case, Bisard faces misdemeanor charges of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated in the April crash.
Since the original crash on Aug. 6, 2010, the case has become a political and procedural catfight among the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and the city of Indianapolis. Add a defense team paid for by the police union, and the matter has been a drawn-out legal mess.
Because of the relentless interest in the case by the Indianapolis media, Bisard’s defense attorney John Kautzman asked to have the case moved. Last December, Marion County Judge Grant Hawkins granted the request.
By February, the case had been moved to Surbeck’s docket. In the past few months, judges Fran Gull and Wendy Davis, along with Magistrate Sam Keirns worked to keep Surbeck’s calendar as clear as possible to deal with the lengthy and frequent motions from both sides in the case.
It is uncommon for Allen County criminal cases to continue this long, and if they do, to involve as much motion-filing and paperwork as a respectable civil case.
But the Bisard case has been filled with motions, responses, hearings and arguments.
Hearings scheduled for one day have stretched into two, and jury selection alone is scheduled to take three days, still less than the week or so originally suggested by the lawyers.
The defense attorneys have asked Surbeck to close hearings to the public, sequester the jury for the duration of the trial and again to suppress the vials of blood collected from the officer shortly after the crash.
Prosecutors want to keep out statements made about the admissibility of the blood vials by former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi.
In addition to those motions, both sides have made a litany of other requests for information and evidence they want kept out of the courtroom
Tuesday, Surbeck issued a ruling prohibiting the defense from subpoenaing Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry about a letter he wrote to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in May 2012 complaining about the behavior of the Department of Public Safety in connection with evidence in the Bisard case.
With the case scheduled to run from Oct. 14 through Nov. 8, area residents will definitely notice one thing: the constant and abiding presence of Indianapolis television trucks parked outside the courthouse.
Since Bisard first made his appearance in an Allen Superior Court room, the Indianapolis media have been watching from the gallery, requiring a lot of attention and handling on the part of court staff.
Kathryn Dolan, spokeswoman with the Indiana Supreme Court, has been helping Surbeck and court staff figure out how to accommodate the media.
In late September, Indianapolis media met with court staff to go over behavior expectations – including where they could take their phones (only on the first floor), whether they could use computers in the courtroom (only for note-taking) and where they would park their satellite trucks.
Phones are prohibited in the Courthouse for anyone but Courthouse staff and attorneys with proper identification.
During a high-profile murder case two years ago, a local radio station employee was found to be in contempt of court when he took his cellphone into the courtroom and sent a text message during a hearing.
For the Bisard case, any members of the media caught with their cellphones on the third floor will be kicked out of the building and their organization will lose access to the media area roped off on the first floor, according to an order issued last month.
With each case, there are different questions that surface, Dolan said. We are trying to look at all of those competing interests and say, Let’s come up with a plan.’
Part of that plan includes reserving the prime parking spaces along the Courthouse Green on Berry Street for the media and its satellite trucks.
Colin Keeney, Fort Wayne’s parking enforcement supervisor, said the city was trying to accommodate as many people as it could, but the media presence was exigent circumstances.