EX-MSP trooper Mark Bessner,left, sits with his attorney Richard Convertino before he was arraigned Thursday Dec. 21, 2017 (Photo by Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press/TNS/Sipa USA)

Prosecutor: Nothing Reasonable About Cop Using Taser On Teen

April 11, 2019 - 9:08 am

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - A lawyer for a former Michigan State Police trooper is defending his decision to fire a Taser at a Detroit teenager who was riding an all-terrain vehicle, causing him to crash and die.

Trial opened Wednesday for Mark Bessner. He's charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 15-year-old Damon Grimes in August 2017. It's the second trial after a jury last fall couldn't reach a unanimous verdict.

Bessner, 45, shot Grimes with a Taser from a moving patrol car as he and a partner pursued the boy at high speed on a Detroit street. Bessner says he believed Grimes was armed, but the teen had no weapon.

Damon Grimes (Photo provided by family)

Prosecutor Matthew Penney told jurors there was nothing reasonable about firing a Taser for a routine traffic offense. He said Bessner made a decision that he knew would hurt and kill someone -- and he did it anyway. 

Defense attorney Richard Convertino told jurors they must find Bessner not guilty if they believe the officer was trying to protect himself. He said substantial facts will come from the witness stand during trial, which will lead to Bessner's acquittal. He challenged the prosecution's assertion that there was no threat, saying Bessner had reason to believe that he was in danger and had "an absolute right" to act accordingly.

Both the prosecution and defense are pointing to Bessner's training and experience as basis to find him either guilty or not guilty. In addition to Grimes' death, prosecutors have pointed to four other incidents involving Bessner deploying a Taser, sometimes when the targets were handcuffed. One man, Forrest Harvey III, says Bessner shot him with a Taser just weeks before Grimes' death, also while he was riding an ATV. In 2014, Bessner fired his Taser at a suspect who was handcuffed. He agreed to a five-day suspension, records show, but four days were eventually dropped. It apparently was his first case of misconduct.

Bessner has said Grimes was driving toward him and his partner in an aggressive manner and appeared to "taunting" them. According to State Police, troopers attempted to stop Grimes for reckless driving, activating their emergency lights and siren, but Grimes refused to stop, leading troopers in a pursuit eastbound on Rossini near Gratiot. Bessner said he deployed the Taser when he saw Grimes reach for his waistband. Multiple witnesses, however, have testified that they never saw Grimes' hands leave the ATV's handlebars. 

"It was a split second," Bessner previously told the court. "I didn't have time to make a decision."

Grimes crashed the ATV after being hit with the Taser and was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Bessner, who faces possible life in prison if convicted, said he "absolutely" believed the teen was armed and was "shocked" to learn there was no gun. He got emotional on the witness stand during his first trial, saying it was a "terrible tragedy."

"All I could think of was that this family had lost their son," he told jurors.

Prosecutors say Bessner's use of the Taser was unreasonable, and state police officials described his actions as criminal. He was suspended, then resigned from the police force following Grimes' death. 

Separately, a $50 million civil lawsuit by the Grimes family is pending against Bessner, accusing him of excessive force.