A former Michigan state trooper was convicted of involuntary manslaughter Wednesday in the death of a Detroit teenager who crashed an all-terrain vehicle and died when he was shot with a Taser.
Mark Bessner, who had a history of misconduct allegations involving Taser use, fired the immobilizing device from the passenger seat of a patrol car while he and his partner chased 15-year-old Damon Grimes in August 2017. State police officials condemned his conduct and agreed that criminal charges were appropriate.
Bessner, who quit the department after Grimes’ death, said he believed the teen was reaching for a gun in his waistband. Grimes, however, didn’t have a weapon.
“There can be no question that Mark Bessner knew that (he) was going to cause some serious harm to Damon Grimes,” assistant prosecutor Matthew Penney told jurors.
Bessner was charged with second-degree murder, but the jury opted for the lesser charge after deliberating for one day. He was immediately taken into custody to await his sentence on May 2. The maximum penalty is 15 years in prison.
Nearly 20 sheriff’s deputies were in the courtroom to respond to any disruptions while the verdict was announced. Bessner’s family loudly sobbed while awaiting an elevator.
The Grimes family “is somewhat satisfied,” said spokesman Oliver Gantt. “I know they had hoped for more. For the most part, I think they got a little bit of closure. I believe the family can rest with that.”
It was Bessner’s second trial: A different jury last fall couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on a murder charge after listening to him emotionally explain how he “absolutely” believed Grimes had a gun.
But Bessner didn’t testify in his own defense during the latest trial. His attorney, Richard Convertino, urged jurors to put aside sympathy for Grimes’ family and place themselves in the trooper’s shoes in a high-crime neighborhood.
“ATVs and guns — that was the perception of those who patrolled those areas,” Convertino said.
Two months before Grimes’ death, an arbitrator had cleared Bessner of misconduct in how he used his Taser while chasing a crime suspect. State police wanted to suspend him for 10 days. The man was handcuffed during a traffic stop but suddenly sprinted away and was able to clear fences.
It’s generally against state policy to use a stun gun on a handcuffed person who’s in custody. Bessner was also accused of misconduct and agreed to a brief suspension for firing a Taser at a handcuffed man in 2014, records show.