INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – Who could have imagined that one blood sample would cause so much trouble?
It has raised suspicion about the competence of the city’s police department. It has raised concerns about whether justice can be served. And now — now that this blood sample has been mishandled yet again — it has toppled the chief of police.
Paul Ciesielski resigned Tuesday as chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the same day that Mayor Greg Ballard announced that blood drawn from suspended officer David Bisard had been improperly moved and possibly ruined.
Bisard is awaiting trial in the crash that killed one motorcyclist and injured two others on Aug. 6, 2010. A blood draw that was botched by IMPD had indicated Bisard’s blood-alcohol level was 0.19 when his patrol car hit the motorcycles, which would be well above Indiana’s 0.08 legal threshhold for driving drunk.
“At best, this matter shows gross incompetence; at worst, possible criminal intent,” Ballard said at a news conference with Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Straub. “I want to express how angry and disgusted I am that this happened.”
The FBI will probe why — despite a judge’s explicit instructions to preserve Bisard’s blood samples for further testing — a second vial was moved from a refrigerated compartment in a property room in the City-County Building to an unrefrigerated area of a backup property room at the IMPD Training Academy, 10th Street and Post Road.
Straub said Ciesielski will remain a captain with the department, but his assignment hasn’t been determined yet.
In addition to the resignation of Ciesielski, who did not return a message left on his cellphone Tuesday, IMPD Deputy Chief of Professional Standards Valerie Cunningham was placed on paid suspension.
Lt. Paula Irwin, who was in charge of the property room, and Teresa Brockbrader, a civilian employee, also have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Deputy Director for Community Affairs Rick Hite was appointed acting chief.
Ballard and Straub stopped short of saying the blood was intentionally tampered with, but its mishandling was met with disbelief by several observers, including Aaron Wells, whose 30-year-old son, Eric Wells, was killed in the crash.
“All of the so-called blunders at the beginning of this case, and a year and a half later to still have them butchering evidence,” Wells said, “it’s absolutely devastating to all of us.”
Following the improper blood draw after the crash, this is now the second time Bisard’s blood has been improperly cared for.
“It is laughable,” said Fran Watson, clinical professor of law at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. “And not in a good way. In a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me way. It’s the Police Department’s job to maintain evidence in a form that it’s admissible.”
Prosecutor Terry Curry said his office discovered that Bisard’s blood had been moved last week when Hawkins granted prosecutors’ request to test the second vial.
At first, Curry said, they weren’t sure whether it simply had been moved to another refrigerated area or whether it was unrefrigerated. Curry said his office confirmed Monday that the blood wasn’t refrigerated.
Still, Curry said the mishandling likely won’t affect prosecutors’ case against Bisard. Storing the blood in an unrefrigerated area means the alcohol content might be compromised, Curry said, but the DNA should still be intact. Testing the second vial was a precaution, he said, and there’s enough blood in the first vial to have an independent lab retest it.
“We are currently working with an independent lab to clarify the implications of testing the blood from the second vial,” Curry said.