State wants to stop representing ex-trooper in ATV suit

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office asked a court Wednesday for permission to stop representing the state trooper who was driving the cruiser that pursued a teenage ATV rider who subsequently died in a crash.

Assistant Michigan Attorneys General Mark Donnelly and John Fedynsky, along with former assistant attorney general Joseph Froehlich, filed the motion to withdraw as counsel for former state trooper Ethan Berger, who was fired in March, according to the filing.

Berger was driving his patrol car Aug. 26 on Detroit’s east side, when he and partner Mark Bessner encountered Grimes, who reportedly was driving his ATV in the street illegally.

According to state police, Grimes, 15, did not comply with orders to stop, so Bessner allegedly fired his Taser at the teen, who crashed into a parked flatbed and suffered fatal blunt-force head injuries.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Bessner with second-degree murder. Berger was not charged, although he was sued by Grimes’ family for more than $75,000. The attorney general’s office was representing him.

In Wednesday’s motion to withdraw, Donnelly and Fedynsky wrote that the attorney general’s office informed Berger “that the involvement of the Department of Attorney General was provisional and subject to a future determination whether other counsel would be provided ... or no other counsel would be provided.”

Per union rules, state police officials requested the attorney general represent Berger while he was suspended pending an investigation. But the internal affairs probe could not move forward until Worthy decided on charges, the attorney wrote in Wednesday’s filing.

After Worthy decided on Dec. 19 not to charge Berger, the state internal investigation began.

“MSP determined that Berger committed misconduct related to this case and terminated his employment on March 29, 2018,” the attorneys wrote in their Wednesday filing. “Berger has grieved this decision, which is the subject of pending arbitration proceedings.

“On April 30, 2018, MSP advised Berger that it would no longer provide for his legal representation in this case and requested that the Department of Attorney General cease representing him,” the attorneys wrote. “Berger has also grieved this decision, which is also now the subject of pending arbitration proceedings.”

In a statement, state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said that after the internal inquiry into Grimes’ death, “Berger was charged with several violations of the MSP Code of Conduct on March 19, 2018. On March 29, a discipline conference was held and the proposed discipline of termination was upheld.”

Officials with the Michigan State Troopers’ Association union could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Bessner resigned from the police force prior to the murder charges being filed against him.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN