Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy talks about cases involving law enforcement officers. Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Detroit — Criminal charges were filed Wednesday against four police officers in separate cases, including a Michigan State Police trooper accused of using a Taser on a teenager who then crashed his ATV and died.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced a murder charge against the trooper, as well as assault charges against a trio of Detroit police officers who allegedly used excessive force on citizens.
But Worthy said she would not seek charges against another Detroit officer who in February fatally shot a 19-year-old.
“Excessive force will not be tolerated,” Worthy said during a press conference in her Detroit office. “We’re convinced we can bring these officers to justice on behalf of their victims.”
Michigan State Police Trooper Mark Bessner was charged with second-degree murder and two counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Aug. 26 death of 15-year-old ATV driver Damon Grimes.
State police officials said Grimes did not obey an order to stop driving his ATV illegally in the street on the city’s east side. In violation of department policy, Bessner, a passenger in his squad car, used his Taser on Grimes, who then crashed into a parked flatbed and died from blunt-force head trauma. If convicted, Bessner faces up to life in prison.
State Police Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue responded in a written statement Wednesday: “Troopers are not trained to do what Bessner did, and we condemn his actions. His conduct was criminal in nature and deserving of the charges today authorized by Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
“On behalf of the Michigan State Police, I offer my sincerest apologies to the family of Damon Grimes. Neither my apology nor these criminal charges will bring Damon back, but I hope they provide some amount of solace to his family.”
Monique Grimes, Damon’s mother, was asked Wednesday whether she accepted the apology.
“No,” she said during a press conference at the offices of her attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, who filed a $50 million lawsuit against Bessner four days after the incident.
“My son should be here today, and he’s not,” Monique Grimes said. “I miss him every day. He was only 15. He had his whole life ahead of him.”
Now that criminal charges have been filed, officials with state and Detroit police are launching internal investigations to determine if other officers involved in the cases violated their departments’ policies.
“Those officers may not have engaged in criminal behavior, but they may have violated policy,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said.
Another case that yielded charges Wednesday included an October incident in which Detroit Officer Lonnie Wade was captured on video striking 23-year-old David Bivins with his baton inside a Detroit Meijer store, where Wade was moonlighting as a security guard. Wade was charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder and felonious assault. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $5,000.
“We will not shirk from decisions and tough cases,” Worthy said. “It’s always tough when you have to investigate a member of law enforcement, but that’s no excuse. It is what it is. We let the facts and the evidence lead us.”
Craig added he is scrutinizing the culture of his department to curtail future problems.
“This does not reflect the vast majority of police officers who do a wonderful job,” Craig said. “However, to those police officers that engage in misconduct, administrative or criminal, know that you will be held accountable.”
‘High risk of death’
The Rev. W.J. Rideout III, who has protested Grimes’ death and other cases involving alleged police misconduct, called Wednesday’s announcement “a step in the right direction.”
“These charges prove that our protests against police corruption and brutality are not in vain,” he said. “It goes to show you there are cops out there whose badges and guns should be taken from them forever.”
Grimes’ family attorney, James Harrington, also praised Worthy’s decision.
“It takes a lot of courage to bring charges that are not easy to be brought,” said Harrington.
Detroit police chief James Craig talks about reassuring the community after charges are brought against police officers. Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Worthy said she decided to charge Bessner with second-degree murder because “he created a very high risk of death.”
“He may not have meant to kill him, but that doesn’t matter,” she said. “The classic law school test is if you’re on top of a tall building, and you drop a safe down, you may not have intended to kill (someone), but you created a high risk of death.”
State police suspended Bessner because he allegedly deployed his stun gun from inside a moving vehicle, a violation of department policy. He later resigned.
Two other state troopers — including Ethan Berger, who drove the police cruiser, according to police sources, and another who allegedly mishandled evidence at the crime scene — also have been suspended. According to the state police, they would not be charged Wednesday, but an internal investigation would be conducted.
Worthy and state police officials said a state police supervisor told another trooper to remove a Taser wire from the scene. Worthy added there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the supervisor with a crime.
Harrington said Berger, who is also being sued by Fieger for more than $75,000, should also have been charged criminally.
“He had plenty of time to hit the brakes and not stand by while someone’s constitutional rights are violated,” Harrington said.
Fieger also filed a $25 million lawsuit against Meijer in Wade’s assault case. The alleged victim, Bivins, whose teeth were knocked out, said Wednesday he still felt “daily pain.”
Bivins said he hasn’t watched the video of the incident.
“That’s essentially going back and reliving the same trauma over again,” he said.
“Before this, I actually intended to be a police officer. I can’t say this is my dream anymore.”
3 assault cases
Also Wednesday, Detroit Officer Richard Billingslea was charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm in connection with the May 31 alleged assault of two men at a Mobil gas station. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $5,000.
According to a complaint filed by the two men — D’Marco Craft, a college student, and Michaele Jackson, a Detroit city bus driver — at about 1:30 a.m. that day, the pair went to a gas station on Harper to buy cigarettes and encountered two officers.
Jackson went toward the store to buy cigarettes and walked past Billingslea, who threw him face-first to the concrete, and the other officer joined the struggle, according to the men.
Former Detroit officer Edward Hicks was the fourth officer charged Wednesday. He faces charges in connection with the alleged Aug. 16, 2016, beating of 31-year-old Deonta Stewart.
“Officer Hicks and his partner drove up on Stewart, who was walking in the area of the Martin Luther King Homes at Chene and Lafayette Streets in Detroit,” Worthy said.
Hicks told Stewart to stop, but Stewart ran, Worthy said.
“Hicks initiated a foot chase. During the chase, Stewart looked back and, realizing he was being pursued by the police, stopped running,” she said.
“It is alleged that Hicks punched Stewart in the face multiple times, causing significant facial injuries and placed him under arrest.”
Hicks later told Stewart to provide a false statement, Worthy said.
Hicks faces up to 10 years in prison after being charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and misconduct in office.
Worthy also announced Wednesday that she has decided not to charge a Detroit officer in the Feb. 13 fatal shooting of Raynard Burton.
Burton had been spotted inside a stolen car on Detroit’s west side that day. He had carjacked the vehicle two days earlier, according to police.
According to Craig at the time, one officer, who was assigned to the 10th Precinct Special Operations unit, chased Burton on foot. They ran into the backyard of a vacant house at 4255 Webb, where Craig said Burton struggled with the cop.
The officer fired one shot, striking Burton in the lower right torso, Craig said.
Worthy said Wednesday witnesses corroborated the officer’s story that the shooting was justified.
“Based on the facts and evidence in the case, there is insufficient evidence to charge a crime,” Worthy said.
Bessner, Wade and Billingslea are scheduled to be arraigned at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in 36th District Court. Hicks’ arraignment date is still to be scheduled.