Prosecutor: Ex-trooper 'chose to incapacitate' ATV rider
A former state trooper used excessive force when he fired his Taser at a teen fleeing on an ATV, causing the 15-year-old boy to crash and die, a prosecutor said Wednesday as the retrial of Mark Bessner began.
During his opening statement, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Matthew Penney told jurors Bessner "did cause the death of Damon Grimes" and that the ex-trooper's decision to deploy his Taser at the teen on Aug. 26, 2017, was not "reasonable."
"There was no justification for what he did," said Penney, adding that Grimes was not a threat to Bessner on his partner during the incident on Rossini Street near Gratiot. "The defendant didn't choose to shout at Grimes (to stop him). The defendant chose to incapacitate him."
Penney said some of the questions jurors need to consider include: "Why are you shooting? ... How risky is a traffic (violation) to the whole world?"
Bessner, 45, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Grimes.
Penney also told jurors that Bessner chased a group of ATV riders near downtown Detroit on Aug. 12, 2017, two weeks before the Grimes encounter. During the first incident, Penney said Bessner was laughing as he chased the ATV riders.
In a video of the earlier incident, which is expected to be shown to jurors, Bessner allegedly is heard talking about using a Taser on the driver, who eluded Bessner and his partner after they put their lights and sirens on.
"I was kinda of hoping we'd get close enough that we could Tase that guy once we stopped,'" Bessner allegedly is heard saying.
The first jury did not see the video of the Aug. 12 incident. Prosecutors discovered its existence after the first trial.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Richard Convertino told the jury that Bessner followed the department's use of force continuum and that Grimes went "directly" at Bessner and his partner with his ATV.
The defense attorney said Bessner thought Grimes was reaching for a weapon when one of his hands dropped near his waistline.
A witness to the incident, Ariel Houser, testified she did not see Grimes' hands leave the handlebars, saying she noticed the teen's hands because she watched him "struggle" to control the ATV and stay on it.
Convertino said there was "absolutely nothing wrong" with Bessner deploying his Taser because he followed protocol on when an officer can use deadly force. He added that Bessner had "an absolute right" to protect himself because the former trooper felt threatened.
"If you believe that Mr. Bessner believed that the (public safety) and his life were at stake, you must find him not guilty," said Convertino, adding that his client was "not someone out Tasing people for sport."
Bessner’s first trial ended in a mistrial in October. A jury of six men and six women deliberated for three days before they told Judge Margaret Van Houten that they could not agree on a verdict.
Van Houten is presiding over the retrial, with a jury of 10 women and four men, including two alternates.
Dr. David Moons, a former assistant medical examiner for Wayne County, testified about Grimes' autopsy, saying the teen died of multiple blunt forces that caused extensive brain and spinal cord injuries, which would have caused an immediate death.
He said Grimes had a Taser probe in his left back and in the left side of his head. Moons said the teen did not have any alcohol or drugs in his system.
Also testifying Wednesday was a stun gun expert, who discussed what happens when a Taser is fired at a human body. A Michigan State Police sergeant took the witness stand Wednesday to talk about the video of the crash that killed Grimes' life.
The video was shown to jurors.
Penney called six witnesses Wednesday, including Grimes' mother, who said she purchased the brand-new ATV for her son months before the fatal incident.
Detroit Police Officer Jalen Williams, who came across the chase with his partner, said he did not not see a weapon on Grimes. Williams also said he did not hear Bessner or his partner say that they believed that Grimes had a weapon.
Williams said he did not "recall" seeing Grimes take his hands off the handle bars of the ATV. He also disputed Convertino's description of the Rossini/Gratiot area as a high-crime district, where Bessner was patrolling as part of a special task force.
Testimony continues Thursday.