Ex-trooper charged in ATV death takes stand
A tearful former Michigan State Police trooper on trial in the death of a 15-year Detroit ATV rider said he thought his and his partner's life was in danger when he deployed his Taser, causing the ATV the to flip and fatally injuring the teen.
Mark Bessner cried at times during the lengthy testimony before 15 jurors and a packed courtroom before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Margaret Van Houten on Thursday.
Bessner testified it was a "terrible decision" to deploy his Taser during a chase that led to the death of Damon Grimes, 15, on Aug. 26, 2017. He said he deployed the Taser because he thought he was in the midst of a "deadly-force situation" because Grimes was driving toward him and his partner on Rossini and Gratiot in an aggressive manner and appeared to "taunting" the state troopers as the teen slowed down.
The former MSP trooper was part of the Secure Cities Partnership, an anti-violent crime task force, when he was assigned to patrol Detroit's 9th precinct, where he said there had been problems with ATVs "terrorizing" neighborhoods. A Detroit Police officer, Jalen Williams, who is stationed in the 9th precinct, testified earlier this week that he did not receive any briefings about problems with ATV in the area.
Bessner said he saw Grimes reach toward his waistband with his left hand and that he feared for his and his partner's life and the public's safety. He said he thought it was "proper" to deploy his Taser.
"It was a deadly-force situation and I used the only tool I had," Bessner said. "It was a split second ... I didn’t have time to make a decision."
The Taser's probes hit Grimes in the left lower back and one lodged in the teen's hair on the left side of his head. Bessner said he and his partner immediately rendered Grimes first aid after he patted the teen down to see if he had a gun. Bessner said he did not find a weapon on the teen.
Bessner said he was shocked when he learned after an ambulance took Grimes away that the person he shot with his Taser was a child.
"I was ... shocked when I learned he was 15," said Bessner, as others in the courtroom, including Grimes' mother, Monique, and Bessner's family members broke into tears. "It was a terrible tragedy and all I could think of was that this family … had lost their son and all I could think of was my daughter and what they must be going through and all I could think of is what happens now. ... I can’t bring Mr. Grimes back. I can’t go back and I can’t fix my family."
Bessner testified, "It felt like I'd been punched in the gut. I had no idea ... It looked like a grown man. He was a boy."
Under cross-examination, Bessner said he did not tell dispatchers about his belief that Grimes was reaching for a weapon in his waistband. He said he later told told his partner, his wife and his priest that he thought Grimes was reaching for a weapon.
Bessner also testified that he was disciplined for improper use of a Taser a few years ago, but he did not remember exactly when. He said that getting hit by a Taser is "uncomfortable" and could cause a person to scream, but he did not testify that it is painful.
Bessner was the only witness to testify on his behalf. His defense team rested Thursday, as did the prosecution. Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.
The former trooper has been charged with second-degree murder and two counts of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted of the murder charge, Bessner could spend life behind bars. If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
After being hit by the Taser, Grimes hit a parked pickup truck on Rossini and died shortly afterward. David Moons, assistant Wayne County medical examiner, testified earlier in the week that Grimes died of multiple blunt-force injuries to his head.
Moons said the teen had two Taser probes on his body and that the teen did not have alcohol or drugs in his system.
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Matthew Penney presented several witnesses who testified that the teen's hands did not leave the handlebars. .
Grimes' only crime that day, said Penney, "was that he wasn't supposed to be riding an ATV in the street. That's what he did wrong."
A Taser expert with the Michigan State Police testified that a nuisance violation, such as speeding on an ATV, is not necessarily a justification for firing a Taser at a person.