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.