Family of 15-year-old ATV driver killed by state trooper settles suit for $12 million

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — The family of a 15-year-old ATV driver who was killed after a state trooper stunned him with a Taser settled a federal wrongful death lawsuit Friday for $12 million.

Damon Grimes died Aug. 26, 2017. He was riding his ATV in the street illegally and Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner ordered him to stop. When Grimes didn't comply, Bessner fired his Taser at him, and the teen crashed into a flatbed truck and died after sustaining blunt-force trauma to his head.

Damon Grimes

It's against State Police policy to fire a Taser into a moving vehicle. Bessner was fired, and in May, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Wayne Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten exceeded the sentencing guidelines of 19-38 months and sentenced the ex-trooper to 5-15 years in prison.

Grimes' mother, Monique Grimes, retained Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against Bessner, fellow trooper Ethan Berger and Michigan State Police Sgt. Jacob Liss. 

Berger, who was driving the cruiser, was fired in March 2018. 

Fieger and the Michigan Attorney General's Office, which represented the defendants, on Friday reached a settlement in the lawsuit, which was presided over by U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain.

Helen Stinson, left, aunt of Damon Grimes, and his sister Dezanique Grimes, 27, listen during the sentencing of Mark Bessner in the death of the 14-year-old ATV driver.

"After extensive discovery reaching over 40 depositions, the parties have entered into a global settlement in the amount of $12 million," the seven-page order said.

Reached by telephone Friday, Fieger said: "I’m very thankful that the attorney general recognized the grave injury that occurred in this case, and the intolerable circumstances, and therefore accepted responsibility and allowed justice to be done."

Fieger added Grimes' family is "very pleased" with the settlement.

"The facts of this case are so horrendous, and it was difficult dealing with the bureaucracy of the state of Michigan and dealing with the police agencies, but having cut through all that, the attorney general did the right thing and settled the case, and didn't subject the state to a trial that could have resulted in a much larger verdict," Fieger said.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, the spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, said state police authorized the settlement.

Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said in a written statement: "The Michigan State Police extends its continued condolences to the Grimes family, friends and supporters. Damon Grimes’ death is a tragedy that could have been avoided if not for the criminal and unforgivable actions of a former MSP trooper.

"The MSP recognizes that while this monetary settlement does not change how this has affected the Grimes family, it may help to begin to bring some closure. The MSP sincerely apologizes to everyone impacted by this senseless act, and we have prioritized working with our troopers and the community to avoid this from happening again."

The Rev. W.J. Rideout, who organized protests after the incident, said justice was served, although he added: "It will never bring back the life of Damon Grimes."

"I'm glad the family got something out of this, but it'll never bring him back," Rideout said. "However, some justice was served in this case, and the officer — or, I should say, the murderer — is in prison serving time.

"We just hope and pray this will send a message to other police officers that they cannot get away with blatant murder."

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN