Ex-State Trooper Convicted Of Involuntary Manslaughter For Tasing A Teen Riding An ATV At 35 MPH

from the less-lethal? dept

Former Michigan State Trooper Mark Bessner is going to jail. Bessner originally faced a second-degree murder charge for tasing a teen riding an ATV, but was ultimately convicted of a lesser charge. The details here are provided by the New York Times, which seems to be trying to further exonerate the former law enforcement officer with its reporting.

A former Michigan state trooper was convicted of involuntary manslaughter on Wednesday, nearly two years after he fired a Taser at a teenager on an all-terrain vehicle who then crashed and died.

The teenager, Damon Grimes, 15, was illegally riding the A.T.V. in a residential area of Detroit in August 2017. State police officers followed in a patrol car to get him to pull over. When he did not immediately do so, the officer in the passenger seat of the patrol car pulled out his Taser and stunned Damon.

Video footage of the episode showed the A.T.V. veering toward the side of the road. The teenager crashed into the back of a parked truck and died shortly thereafter.

If this is the only writeup someone sees regarding this incident, they're going to come away with a lot of wrong impressions.

First, Bessner fired his Taser from his moving patrol car at Damon Grimes. Both vehicles were traveling at 35 mph when this happened. Earbuds were recovered from the scene, bringing into the question the assumed fact that Grimes knew he was being pursued by the troopers.

At the point the pursuit was initiated, Grimes had only committed a traffic infraction. Trooper Bessner decided to punish this with an inadvertent -- but foreseeable -- death sentence. The pursuit was unnecessary. Bessner's decision to tase a person riding an ATV at 35 mph by firing out the passenger window of his moving vehicle was beyond idiotic. It was psychopathic.

Bessner retired while under investigation. His former employer has attempted to exonerate itself by stating Bessner's Taser deployment fell outside of department guidelines. Inarguably, this is true. But what the agency won't own up to is its continued employment of a trooper who should have been fired long before he took someone's life. According to public records obtained by the Detroit Free Press, Bessner was a liability to the force for years.

Bessner has a history of using excessive force and has been reprimanded before for using his Taser inappropriately, including using the device on handcuffed suspects. The investigation into Bessner's conduct shows that over a four-year span ending in 2017, he had 40 use of force incidents, 17 pursuits and five car accidents.

The last stat possibly explains why Bessner was in the passenger seat. The rest of it explains why Bessner felt justified firing his taser at a teen riding an ATV -- a teen whose unprotected body was hurled headfirst into the rear end of a pickup truck, resulting in multiple deadly injuries, including a dislocated skull.

The Times article also skims right past Bessner's attempt to change his story during the trial. None of the records obtained by the Detroit Free Press contain anything indicating Bessner believed Grimes was carrying a gun. Multiple body camera and dashcam recordings contained zero statements about this CYA theory, as did the paperwork related to the incident and its subsequent investigation.

Nevertheless, Bessner tried to save himself by claiming -- months after being charged -- he thought the teen on the ATV was trying to pull out a gun.

“He had slowed down and he had looked back several times,” Bessner testified. “There was one very, very crystallizing moment where his left hand reached down towards his waist.”

He later said he “absolutely” believed Grimes had a gun and that his life was in jeopardy.

“It was a deadly force situation, is what I thought, and I used the tool I had available to me,” Bessner said.

After Grimes crashed the ATV, Bessner said he and his partner tried to help the teen. He also searched the victim for a gun.

“I was shocked that he didn’t have a weapon. I was shocked at the magnitude of what had happened,” Bessner testified.

Every cop who kills an unarmed person is "shocked" when they don't have a weapon. Some shock is legitimate. Some of it isn't really shock, but rather dismay that the "feared for my safety" defense may only be as bulletproof as the dead body at their feet.

State Trooper Bessner screwed up and it's going to cost him a few years of his freedom. But he didn't screw up by making a bad judgment call on force deployment. He screwed up by assuming he could act like a vigilante rather than a law enforcement officer and get away with it. His history with the state troopers shows it was a safe bet to make. But sometimes the bet doesn't pay off and the constant underdog -- police accountability -- scores a rare win.

Filed Under: atv, damon grimes, detroit, involuntary manslaughter, mark bessner, taser


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  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 6 May 2019 @ 4:01pm

    reprimanded before for using his Taser inappropriately, including using the device on handcuffed suspects.

    Which international law regards as use of a torture device which the officer should have been arrested and charged for. All kinds of failure on this at all levels, police and the media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      stderric (profile), 6 May 2019 @ 6:44pm

      Re:

      Arrested and charged? For god's sake man, how much more could he suffer (and how much more could he possibly learn!?) after the hell of a reprimand?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 7 May 2019 @ 2:28am

        Re: Re:

        I am sure that they employed the drastic measure of a reprimand only under the most dire of circumstances and in perfect moderation. I mean, they are not animals.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2019 @ 4:13pm

    They are always anomalies.

    Hey Bamboo. You’re up to try to minimise this one. I’d go with anomaly and/or regrettable accident if I were you. Good luck bro.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2019 @ 4:55pm

      Re: They are always anomalies.

      You assume Bamboo isn't the former officer being talked about in this article.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Canuck, 6 May 2019 @ 5:19pm

        Re: Re: They are always anomalies.

        Makes no difference. Bammy will defend this officer's actions either way. He always does. As will Blueballs. When Blue agrees with you, damn, you messed up big time.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2019 @ 5:50pm

          Re: Re: Re: They are always anomalies.

          It's kinda sad, because Bamboo Harvester is otherwise rather reasonable. But the relentless copsucking is pretty fucking dumb of him.

          Seriously, when out of the fucking blue agrees with you...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2019 @ 5:13pm

    Yet another person murdered by the police. The police these days are so scared for their lives they keep shooting unarmed people and almost always getting away with it. If you want to legally murder people, just become a police officer.

    This pig should have been fired long before this happened.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 6 May 2019 @ 6:20pm

      Re:

      Fired, charged and convicted, sent to jail like any violent sociopath without a badge and/or connections would have faced for the same actions...

      It says a lot about the police that 'history of assault' is apparently not a deal-breaker or even something to get overly concerned about, at least until they kill someone and it becomes big enough of a stink that they can't just brush it under the rug and pretend it didn't happen/the victim 'had it coming'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        stderric (profile), 6 May 2019 @ 7:04pm

        Re: Re:

        '...history of assault' is apparently not a deal-breaker or even something to get overly concerned about, at least until they kill someone and it becomes big enough of a stink that they can't just brush it under the rug and pretend it didn't happen/the victim 'had it coming'.

        Jacey Fortin seems to be spritzing the Febreze and wielding a whisk-broom in any event. What a trooper.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 6 May 2019 @ 7:14pm

    Costume Wearing Tax Feeding Turd Holes and Their Lies

    Nevertheless, Bessner tried to save himself by claiming -- months after being charged -- he thought the teen on the ATV was trying to pull out a gun.

    If the tax feeding turd/liar/murderer (ie Bessner) thought the youngster on the ATV was reaching for a pistol would the turd/liar/murderer have employed his TASER or firearm in response?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 6 May 2019 @ 7:15pm

    Ironic

    "I was shocked"

    No, the kid you tazed was shocked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 May 2019 @ 10:40pm

    This cop made the mistake of going outside of established police protocol. If the 15 year old had been driving a regular car, the police could have justifiably killed him by employing the PIT maneuver, a police approved (if deadly) tactic for stopping a moving vehicle. Simply running the ATV off the road would have absolved them of any crime, as the cops could always claim it was just an unfortunate accident, as are so many "death by police cruiser" events. As long as cops stick closely to their training and don't get too creative, even the most egregious murders of unarmed people will always be justified, as the training and trainers are never on trial.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 1:13am

      Re:

      This cop made the mistake of going outside of established police protocol.

      Going outside of established police protocol is the established police protocol.

      It's Schrodinger's protocol.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 4:43am

        Schrodinger's protocol

        Another cop involved in this incident put it bluntly: "dont run from the state police, you'll get fucked up."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 7:17am

      Re:

      "If the 15 year old had been driving a regular car,"

      afaik, ATVs lack any of the safety equipment found in modern vehicles approved for use on the nation's roads.

      Your comparison is ridiculous.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 8:50am

        Re: Re:

        I don't know of any State where a 15 year old can legally drive a "regular car" on a public road.

        ATV's can be registered, insured, and plated as Limited Use Vehicles for operation on public roads.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 10:02am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Driver was not of driving age ... so what? Does that make it ok it to taze em?

          Not sure where you are from but all the states I have lived in, none of them allowed off road vehicle use upon the highway.

          Point was that comparing the two is silly due to there being no safety equipment on the ATV, no seat belt, no air bags, no crumple zones, but you chose to ignore that.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Bamboo Harvester (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 11:18am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Google is your friend:

            "In fact, most states allow counties and towns to set their own standards, and Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Texas, Minnesota, Wyoming, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, North and South Dakota, Washington, Michigan, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Vermont, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Colorado (HB15-1054) have laws allowing the street-legalization of OHVs."

            I know NY does as well.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 2:03pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "street-legalization of OHVs"

              What you are referring to is limited to city limits or possibly county roads but it in no way includes the highway system, interstate or not.

              OHVs typically are not cable of speeds in excess of 40 mph, which is a minimum on many highways.

              In addition they, obviously, lack any safety equipment and therefore should not go fast on pavement because most of them have a solid rear axle.

              Bottom line, the comparison is ridiculous.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 1:41pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "I don't know of any State where a 15 year old can legally drive a "regular car" on a public road."

          It looks like there are six such states where 15 year olds can legally drive and South Dakota has the lowest minimum driving age @ 14 years and 3 months.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driver%27s_licenses_in_the_United_States

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 2:06pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Funny how The Panda is quick to google claims made ... by others

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 2:22pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Funny how The Panda is quick to google claims made ... by others

              And now he will run away as he always does and not come back and answer anything else in this thread.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 1:21am

    Reading comprehension difficulties?

    First up, I think this cop should have been done for 2nd degree murder, what he did is inexcusable.

    That being said, I disagree with the author's take on the NYT article. Based purely on the quotes included on Techdirt of the NYT article, I'm not sure what level of reading comprehension the author assumes of readers to make the claims made.

    Specifically, the author says:

    If this is the only writeup someone sees regarding this incident, they're going to come away with a lot of wrong impressions.

    First, Bessner fired his Taser from his moving patrol car at Damon Grimes. Both vehicles were traveling at 35 mph when this happened.

    The text quoted in this article, while making no reference to the actual speed, does imply that both vehicles were moving:

    State police officers followed in a patrol car to get him to pull over. When he did not immediately do so, the officer in the passenger seat of the patrol car pulled out his Taser and stunned Damon.

    That text states that both vehicles are moving - what other conclusion can be drawn from following in a patrol car to get him to pull over and him not doing so and then the officer firing his Taser from the passenger seat? The only conclusion that can be drawn from that is that both vehicles are moving. Any assumptions made that both vehicles were not in motion would indicate a poor understanding of the English language, or very lazy reading.

    Further, the author writes:

    Earbuds were recovered from the scene, bringing into the question the assumed fact that Grimes knew he was being pursued by the troopers.

    Again, from the quote included in this article, no statement or implication was made that the poor kid "knew" he was being followed. It did not mention state of mind or knowledge, literally just that "he did not immediately do so [pull over]", with no mention of why, just the fact that he didn't. If the reader takes from that a statement that the kid "knew" he was being followed, then they are inserting their own assumptions that otherwise don't exist in the article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 8:51am

      Re: Reading comprehension difficulties?

      "First up, I think this cop should have been done for 2nd degree murder, what he did is inexcusable"

      Prosecutors go for a slam-dunk whenever possible. Second degree murder may have been to narrow a charge to guarantee a conviction.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 7 May 2019 @ 10:05am

        Re: Re: Reading comprehension difficulties?

        Well, I don't get the "involuntary" part in "involuntary manslaughter". I mean, what is supposed to happen when you shoot someone with a taser who is going at 35mph in control of a vehicle without crash protection? Someone who is not capable of anticipating the consequences cannot work as a police officer in or for traffic.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 10:49am

          Re: Re: Re: Reading comprehension difficulties?

          My understanding is it's about intent. Did he intend for the kid to die, or not? It would probably be very difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he did. There's no such requirement for involuntary manslaughter, which is what he was convicted of (a fact not mentioned in this TD writeup for some reason).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Bamboo Harvester (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 11:15am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Reading comprehension difficulties?

            Exactly. Any decently-educated defense lawyer could have swung the jury on a 2nd degree murder charge - and I suspect correctly so. He was trying to "stop" the kid and his actions (tasing) resulted in a death. He didn't intend to kill the kid, so Murder 2 is out.

            The Involuntary Manslaughter charge was pretty much indefensible so far as presenting to a jury is concerned.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            David, 7 May 2019 @ 12:45pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Reading comprehension difficulties?

            My understanding is it's about intent. Did he intend for the kid to die, or not?

            Again: what was supposed to be happening? This is basic physics, like what happens when a bullet hits a target. I cannot express my surprise and dismay that someone dies when I shoot him, so why can I do the same when leaving him helpless on a machine hurtling with 35mph towards the next solid obstacle? "Involuntary" to me means an unexpected outcome. But I don't see what is unexpected about it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 2:53pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Reading comprehension difficulties?

              Police never shoot to kill someone, they shoot to "stop" the guy. Death is an unfortunate (and generally unanticipated) secondary effect of that stoppage, even if no human would have survived it.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              nasch (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 3:45pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Reading comprehension difficulties?

              If you can't see how reasonable doubt could be raised by the officer testifying something to the effect of "I didn't think about what would happen if he crashed into a parked car" then I don't know what else to say.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 1:48am

    Most humans are hypocrates. Hypocracy runs rampant in law enforcement. Its a bloody wonder this doesn't happen multiple times a day across this country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 5:38am

    call the national guard

    Cops are killing their fellow EuroAmericans!!!
    Bad cops are arrested but rarely sentenced appropriately.
    There are NO consequences for being a bad cop, that's why we have bad cops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    zboot (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 7:35am

    Correction to article

    I think you meant that the NYT gives the impression the taser was fired from a stationary police vehicle, not moving.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 7 May 2019 @ 10:19am

    Trump claims that migrants at the border are given a script to follow. What about cops? Every single time they kill an unarmed person, the same ten words come out their mouths;

    "I feared for my safety."

    "He reached for his waistband."

    Isn't it amazing how when faced with the very real possibility of being shot to death by cops, every unarmed person apparently instinctively reaches for their waistband, even though there's nothing there and no reason to do it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 10:39am

    American Law Enforcement:
    All of the authority (to kill people)
    But none of the accountability (for doing so)
    It’s a good gig!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 2:49pm

    I get the feeling here that people really don’t like cops.
    Like “we only pretend when we say we want them around” badly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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