Suit targets State Police driver in fatal ATV chase
The Michigan State Police trooper who drove the police car involved in a chase that ended with the death of a 15-year-old ATV driver is being sued in federal court — the second lawsuit stemming from the incident.
Trooper Ethan Berger was named in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court; the complaint seeks more than $75,000 in damages.
Damon Grimes was killed about 5:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at Rossini and Gratiot on Detroit’s east side. State police, who at the time patroled the 9th Precinct as part of the Secure Cities partnership, said Grimes was driving the ATV on the street, which is illegal, so the troopers, Berger and his passenger, Mark Bessner, ordered him to pull over.
When Grimes didn’t comply, Berger began chasing him, according to the lawsuit. The suit, filed by Grimes family attorney Geoffrey Fieger, insists Berger should have known better.
State police suspended Bessner, Berger and a third officer, a sergeant who, according to three Detroit police sources, removed a Taser wire from the crime scene.
The short chase ended when Bessner allegedly fired his Taser at Grimes, who plowed into a pickup and was pronounced dead at the scene. He died from blunt force head injuries, according to an autopsy by the Wayne County Medical Examiner.
After the incident, state police and Detroit police launched separate criminal investigations. Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller said state police submitted a warrant request, although her office requested further investigation; and that Detroit police have not yet submitted their warrant request.
Four days after Grimes’ death, Fieger filed a $50 million lawsuit against Bessner. The latest suit, against Berger, claims he violated the law by chasing Grimes, and that Berger “authorized and allowed (Bessner) to deploy his Taser directly at Damon Grimes through the open window of the defendant’s moving patrol vehicle in violation of the United States Constitution and the Michigan State Police’s policies and/or procedures,” the suit said.
“At no time did ... Berger witness Damon Grimes commit any crime or felony,” the 14-page lawsuit said. The suit added that Berger never saw Grimes with a weapon, and that the teen didn’t present a threat to him.
“At all relevant times, Trooper Ethan Berger was fully aware of his passenger’s unconstitutional actions,” the lawsuit said. “Berger knew or should have known that the pursuit of Damon Grimes and the application of a Taser to an individual on a moving ATV would be an extremely dangerous and excessive use of force.”
The lawsuit further alleges Berger did not stop his vehicle after his partner deployed his Taser, but “instead drove off.”
“Berger owed a duty to stop his own actions and the actions of the State Trooper in the car with him, and further, had the opportunity to stop such actions, but failed to do so.”
State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said Thursday the agency had not been served with a second lawsuit.
“Regarding our investigation, we’re still working closely with (the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office), but there are still some parts that we’re waiting for before it can be considered fully complete.”