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MSP limits Detroit pursuits after ATV death

The Michigan State Police sharply tightened its rules on car chases in Detroit on Thursday, five days after a trooper’s pursuit contributed to the death of a 15-year-old ATV rider.

Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue said in a statement that the agency is reassessing its vehicle pursuit policy, known as Official Order 10.

“Effective immediately, troopers patrolling in the city of Detroit will be prohibited from engaging in vehicle pursuits resulting from a traffic violation or misdemeanor offense,” she said. “This policy change will be in effect until Official Order 10 is revised.”

Damon on his ATV the day before he died.

A state lawmaker, who introduced a bill two years ago to require troopers to follow local chase policies, said the state police change should be implemented across Michigan.

“This needs to be their policy statewide,” Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, said Thursday. “If it’s bad to chase people for misdemeanors in Detroit, it’s bad for all of Michigan, and we need to help the state police realize that. For them to try to create a policy only for Detroit shows they’re thinking about this wrong.”

Neeley said he plans to re-introduce his legislation, which did not come to a vote in the House in 2015.

“When we introduced it last time, the state police were very resistant to any corrections we tried to make to perfect their pursuit policy,” he said. “There are too many injuries and deaths resulting from these chases.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan met with Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday to urge that the state police pursuit policy be changed and spoke with Neeley “and expressed my full support for his proposed legislation to require Michigan State Police to abide by local pursuit policies when patrolling within the boundaries of a city.”

“Police chases often have the potential for tragedy and the difference in the policies of the Detroit Police Department and the Michigan State Police highlight that concern,” Duggan said in a statement.

The state police shift brings the agency into line with Detroit police policy, which calls for officers to chase motorists only if they’ve committed violent felonies and pose a risk to the public.

“We have been looking at a revised version of our Official Order 10 for a while now,” Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said. “Since 40 percent of our pursuits happen in the Detroit area, this a good way to see if restricting the policy to felonies only makes a difference, and if it would be effective statewide.

“Remember this is only temporary until the revision is complete. Our data may show that there doesn’t need to be a change to the order or we need to make a different change. So that’s why it’s only Detroit for now.”

Etue said all troopers have been reminded that current policy requires troopers to weigh the hazard presented by the violator against the risk created by the pursuit.

Etue’s announcement came less than a week after Damon Grimes died Saturday after crashing an ATV during an alleged attempt to flee Michigan State Police on Detroit’s east side. State police said a trooper shocked the teen with a Taser during the pursuit, and that the boy’s ATV drove over a curb and slammed into the back of a parked pickup.

The Detroit Police Department is investigating the incident, along with the state police.

Thursday’s shift brings state police closer to Detroit police policy, which calls for officers to chase motorists only if they’ve committed violent felonies and pose a risk to the public.

Etue said all troopers have been reminded that current policy requires troopers to weigh the hazard presented by the violator against the risk created by the pursuit in all instances.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig praised the state police decision on Thursday.

“I think it’s a great thing. MSP quickly responded to our community, and I think it’s an appropriate response,” the chief said. “Some aspects of their policy mirror the Detroit police policy, and we welcome it, and applaud the state police for taking the initiative to respond quickly to what has become a tragic situation.”

But Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton said state police should have acted sooner.

“It’s good to see that state police changed their policy, but it’s too late,” he said. “A 15-year-old lost his life; they should have changed that policy a long time ago. I’m glad Chief Craig has started an investigation because we need to find out what happened.”

The trooper, identified by a police source as Mark Bessner, has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the state police inquiry.

Bessner was previously accused of excessive force in two separate lawsuits, although the cases against him were dismissed. He has not been charged in the ATV incident.

Grimes’ family, represented by Southfield lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, has filed a $50 million suit against the trooper. Reached Thursday, the teen’s mother, Monique Grimes, declined to comment.

The state police pursuit, the use of the stun gun on Grimes, and the teen’s subsequent fatal crash have stoked anger in the community. A vigil Wednesday night on Detroit’s east side drew more than 200 people and turned into a protest, with two men jumping on a police car.

“I think that (the state police incident) is a criminal action, and it needs to be investigated by the federal government,” state Sen. Coleman Young II said during a meeting Thursday of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. “It’s wrong, and it’s disturbing.”

Young, who’s running for mayor against Duggan in the November election, added: “This young man had his entire life ahead of him, and it was wiped out for a civil infraction.”

Representatives of local clergy and citizens, including the Rev. David Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church and the Rev. W.J. Rideout III of All God’s People Church, said the community is upset.

“Why would Michigan State Police have a different protocol than local police,” Bullock said. “It’s great to see the development now, but maybe if they had that in place initially, then this kid wouldn’t be dead.”