Taser use can be considered deadly force, expert testifies at ATV trial

Defendant Mark Bessner, left, talks with his attorney, Richard Convertino.

The use of a Taser can be considered "deadly force," a Michigan State Police Taser expert testified Wednesday during the trial for a former trooper charged in the death of a Detroit teen last year during a chase.

"You have to consider the crime and whether the force you’re going to use equals the need to take them into custody," said Michigan State Police First Lt. Barry Schrader during his testimony in the trial of Mark Bessner. "Once you choose to use the Taser, you have to take into totality of circumstances when to use (it), such as the crime. Use of the Taser could be considered deadly force depending on circumstances."

The former state trooper is on trial before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Margaret Van Houten on charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 15-year-old Damon Grimes, who ran the ATV he was riding into a pickup truck after he was Tased by Bessner on the afternoon of Aug. 26, 2017, on Detroit's east side. 

Schrader is the training instructor for Michigan State Police troopers on defensive tactics and Tasers. He trained Bessner on the use of Tasers, the law enforcement official testified Wednesday.

A civil infraction, Schrader testified, is a "very low" priority for using a weapon.  Under cross-examination by Bessner's defense attorney Richard Convertino, Schrader said the use of a Taser is justifiable when in the "totality of the circumstances," a suspect is believed to have a weapon or is showing aggression or if there is a danger to public safety.

"It won't be made off just one decision," said Schrader, who added that when officers see a weapon, they are to "call out" to their partner or other officers. Schrader said clenching of an individual's fist is not enough to deploy a Taser for someone you are trying to take into custody.

He testified that the aim is to arrest someone or resolve a potentially dangerous situation with the "least amount of force," and under cross-examination, he said the use of a weapon should be the "last resort" for law enforcement officers.

"We actually encourage role playing even while you're out on the road to be prepared to better make a decision when you’re confronted with it," said Schrader.

Later, under cross-examination, he acknowledged that officers don't always have much time to consider their all of their options during different scenarios on duty.

Schrader testified that a Taser when a trooper is trying to get control over and take a suspect into custody. The Taser's probe is a neuromuscular incapacitator, which confuses the muscle and the brain, incapacitating a person. 

Drugs, body size and other factors such as mental conditions can impact the effect a Taser has on a person. 

Also on Wednesday, Assistant Wayne County Medical Examiner David Moons testified about the autopsy results for Grimes.

Grimes died of multiple blunt force injuries to his head and the manner of death was ruled an accident.

Two probes from the Taser were found in his left lower back and his hair on the left side of his head. The probe in the hair, said Moons, did not puncture his head. The forensic scientist said the probes "raised questions in my mind."

Grimes did not have any alcohol or drugs in his system, Moons testified.

A woman who says she saw Grimes riding the ATV when it flipped over also testified Wednesday. The eyewitness, Ariel Houser, testified that the teen kept both of his hands on the handlebars of the ATV while he was riding.

Wednesday was the second day of testimony in Bessner's trial. He could face up to life behind bars if convicted.

The prosecution is expected to rest Thursday. 

There is a "distinct possibility" Bessner will take the stand in his own defense, Convertino said Wednesday.


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