Ex-MSP trooper convicted of manslaughter in teen ATV rider's death

Former Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner listens to the jury foreman as he reads the guilty verdit at  Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Wednesday,  April 17, 2019.

Nearly 20 months after a teenage ATV rider crashed and died after a police chase on Detroit's east side, a former state trooper was convicted Wednesday of involuntary manslaughter for shooting him with a Taser.

Mark Bessner, 46, was found guilty during his second trial of causing the death of 15-year-old Damon Grimes on Aug. 26, 2017. The incident stoked anger in the community and led the Michigan State Police to limit pursuits in Detroit.

The high-profile case has been watched by observers across the country because of the comparisons drawn to other "deadly force" cases involving law enforcement and African American males. Jurors chose to convict Bessner on a manslaughter charge, rather than second-degree murder.

Monique Grimes (center) of Detroit, mother of Damon Grimes, leaves the courtroom with family members after the involuntary manslaughter guilty verdict against former MSP trooper Mark Bessner.

"The family is somewhat satisfied a verdict was rendered," Grimes family spokesman Oliver Gantt said. "I know they want him to have some jail time. It's a sense of justice."

Bessner was led out of Wayne County Circuit Court to jail until his sentencing May 2, when he could be given up to 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine.

His lawyer asked for bond, a request that Judge Margaret Van Houten denied. 

The former trooper spent about 40 days in jail in late 2017 and early 2018 before he was given a $1 million bond and released. 

Bessner's wife ran out of the courtroom in tears after her husband was being led away. She and Bessner's co-counsel, Richard Convertino, declined to comment.

Investigators and prosecutors praised the verdict.

"The jury made a strong statement today about the defendant’s criminal actions," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said. "This verdict was a result of a lot of hard work by my office and law enforcement. I want to thank this jury and it is my earnest hope that this verdict brings some small semblance of peace to the Grimes family."

"The Michigan State Police appreciates the careful deliberation of the men and women of the jury and we are grateful to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office for their dedication to justice," said Col. Joe Gasper, the agency's director. "We send our sincere condolences to the family, friends and supporters of Damon Grimes."

During the trial, Convertino said his client thought the teen was a threat to him and his partner. But prosecutors said Grimes was only riding his ATV that day, in violation of a city ordinance, and was not a threat to the troopers. 

Damon Grimes

No gun was found on the teen after the crash on Detroit's east side. .

The Rev. W. J. Rideout III, a community activist who helped lead protests in  Detroit calling for charges against Bessner, said he was "disappointed" in Wednesday's verdict.

"Although the verdict came back guilty on involuntary manslaughter ... (the verdict) was only a partial justice for Damon Grimes' family," he said.

The jury deliberated for about three hours between Tuesday and Wednesday before reaching its verdict in Bessner's second trial. The first ended in a mistrial last fall when jurors said they were not able to reach a verdict.

Jurors had to contemplate whether Bessner caused Grimes to lose control of his ATV and drive into the parked truck after the trooper Tased him.

Mark Bessner

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Matthew Penney told jurors that Bessner and his partner were not justified in chasing Grimes because he was not a threat to them and all he was doing was riding his ATV in the city of Detroit.

Penney said in his closing arguments that Bessner possibly didn't like ATVs being driven in the city, referring to another incident in which the trooper allegedly chased ATVs riders on Fort Street near downtown Detroit Aug. 12, 2017, nearly two weeks before the deadly chase of Grimes.

Gantt said he feels that the Aug. 12 incident swayed the jury and showed Bessner to be a "voracious" Taser user.

Convertino said Bessner believed he was facing a threat from Grimes when the teen appeared to be driving toward the troopers' scout car. Convertino also told jurors that his client was following the state police's department's Use of Force Continuum when he deployed his Taser on Grimes.

Convertino told jurors, three of whom were African-American women, that they had to look at all of the facts, saying Grimes was riding an ATV that had bald tires and that the teen was too "heavy" for the vehicle.

Grimes' mother, Monique Grimes, filed a $50 million federal civil lawsuit against Bessner in 2017. A hearing is scheduled for April 24.


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