A former Michigan state trooper was sentenced to at least five years in prison Monday for causing the death of a 15-year-old Detroit boy who crashed an all-terrain vehicle after he was shot with a Taser.
Judge Margaret Van Houten said Mark Bessner, a lawyer and experienced officer, used poor judgment when he fired the immobilizing device from the passenger seat of a moving patrol car. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after a second trial in April.
‘You abused the public’s trust. … It is the few officers like you who have caused the distrust of police officers that plagues our community in Detroit, the state of Michigan and throughout the country,’ the judge said.
The maximum penalty is 15 years in prison, but Bessner will be eligible for parole after five. He quit the state police after the August 2017 incident.
Bessner and a partner were patrolling a Detroit neighborhood when Damon Grimes, drove an ATV near their car and popped a ‘wheelie.’
The white troopers turned around and pursued the black teen. As they got closer, Bessner deployed the Taser, which releases stainless steel barbs.
Grimes crashed into a parked pickup truck, flipped over and died. Bessner said he believed the boy had a gun in his waistband, but Grimes was unarmed.
During Bessner’s second trial, his defense attorney claimed Grimes’ ATV was in poor condition and that the 22-year veteran was in fear for his life because the teen had taken one of his hands off the handlebars as if reaching for a weapon.
‘A child is a terrible thing to lose,’ an aunt, Helen Stinson, read from an impact statement written by Damon’s parents. ‘To sit at the table and see his empty chair. To look at his empty bedroom has become more than we can bear.’
In their letter, Monique Grimes and John Hughes implored Bessner to think of their dead son when his own children experience milestone moments that Damon has been deprived of, like their first kiss, their high school graduation and their first day at college, reported The Detroit News.
Bessner acknowledged the ‘tragedy’ and turned to the family to apologize. He said he wished he could step into a ‘time machine’ and change what happened.
‘It is a no win-situation for police out there,’ said Bessner, who added that it’s impossible to perform perfectly.
Bessner appealed to the judge for leniency so that he could return home to his five-year-old daughter, adding that while he understand the Grimes family’s anger, he hopes that the court ‘will not be driven by anger,’ reported WXYZ.
Judge Van Houten replied that while he would be able to communicate with his daughter on the phone while in prison, the Grimes family will never get to speak to Damon again.
Two months before Grimes’ death, an arbitrator had cleared Bessner of misconduct in how he used his Taser while chasing a crime suspect in a different incident. State police wanted to suspend him for 10 days.
His first trial ended in a mistrial in October 2018 after Bessner testified in his own defense.
He told jurors that the incident was a ‘blur’ and he believed his life was ‘absolutely’ in jeopardy.
When he learned that Gimes was only a teenager Bessner said he was ‘shocked’, calling it a ‘terrible tragedy’.
‘All I could think of was that this family … had lost their son and all I could think of way my daughter and what they must be going through,’ Bessner said on the stand. ‘And (all) I could think of (was) what happens now? What do we do now?’
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a child,” he said, turning back to look at the Grimes family which spoke on the deceased teens behalf moments earlier. “I understand their anger, the anger at me — but judge I hope this court will not be driven by anger.”