DETROIT – Wayne County prosecutors are seeking murder charges against a Michigan State Police trooper who used his Taser on a teen who died in an ATV crash.
Court documents show Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office is recommending second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges against now-former state Trooper Mark Bessner.
Bessner was suspended after the crash Aug. 26 and resigned Sept. 22. Two other state police employees were suspended Sept. 26 in connection with the teen's death, according to Lt. Michael Shaw.
Worthy said charges will not be sought against the driver of the police cruiser, or the supervisor who was on the scene.
Damon Grimes, 15, crashed his all-terrain vehicle into the back of a truck while state police troopers were in pursuit. He died from blunt force trauma to his head. State police said a trooper broke protocol by firing his Taser out the window of the moving patrol vehicle. Grimes was shocked before he struck the truck.
Grimes died at a hospital after he crashed an ATV into a pickup truck at Rossini Drive and Gratiot Avenue in Detroit. State police said troopers had tried to stop Grimes for "reckless driving," but the teen fled on the ATV. Troopers pursued and one of them used a Taser on Grimes, striking him before the crash.
Witnesses said the trooper pulled close to the ATV and fired his Taser during the chase, and they believe it might have caused Grimes to crash. Witnesses also said the teen was trying to get onto the sidewalk when he hit the pickup truck.
Worthy called the deployment of the Taser unnecessary and without legal justification.
Judge temporarily halts lawsuit
The civil lawsuit against Bessner was temporarily halted Nov. 28 until the official investigation concluded.
The case was stayed until Dec. 31 as prosecutors decided whether to criminally charge the troopers involved in the pursuit and alleged cover-up. The decision to halt the lawsuit was made by U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain.
An investigation into Bessner's actions had been ongoing and court filings gave a brief glimpse into why more troopers were suspended.
Southfield-based attorney Geoffrey Fieger filed a motion to preserve and produce all evidence in the case.
State police attorneys filed a motion to quash the plaintiff's Oct. 4 subpoena and Drain denied the motion.
MSP charging thousands for FOIA
Court filings allege that evidence was destroyed at the scene and that authorities are charging outrageous fees for information. State police responded to Fieger’s FOIA requests with a processing fee of $5,331.20. The request would also take 90 days to process.
“There’s been a systematic obstruction of justice in the Michigan State Police agency and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office who defends them,” said Fieger, who is representing the boy's family. “They destroyed evidence in terms of the Taser wires and even to get the documents we have to bay over $5,000.”
State police said Local 4's FOIA request for the dashcam video would cost $2375.91.
Fieger alleges the time period and cost of the FOIA request is “solely for the purpose of hindering and delaying these proceedings, to avoid transparency and to prejudice the plaintiff.”
“This is what happens when men in blue commit crimes. They get covered up,” Fieger said.
MSP stops patrolling 9th Precinct
Michigan State Police troopers stopped patrolling Detroit’s 9th Precinct in the wake of Grimes' death.
State police Lt. Mike Shaw said the halt of patrols is temporary and said the decision will be re-evaluated. The 10 troopers who were assigned to the 9th Precinct have been reassigned to freeway patrols.
The area is considered a high-crime portion of Detroit. Shaw says "to have state police cars in the area might cause problems in the community."
Chief Craig weighs in on MSP departure from 9th Precinct
Detroit police Chief James Craig addressed the decision at a news conference.
“It’s no secret that there’s been some tension in the neighborhood,” Craig said.
Craig said the residents in the 9th Precinct are not any less protected and that he is confident in the ability of Detroit officers.
“The decision was solely made by MSP,” Craig said. “I understand why the decision was made. If I had been in the colonel’s shoes I probably would have made the same choice.”
Craig called Damon’s death a tragedy. He said the investigation is going well and they are waiting on two items undergoing analysis.
Troopers now prohibited from engaging in pursuits in Detroit
State police said while the policy -- known as official order 10 -- is under review, troopers patrolling in the city of Detroit will be prohibited from engaging in vehicle pursuits resulting from a traffic violation or misdemeanor offense. The policy change only applies to vehicle pursuits in Detroit.
"All MSP enforcement members have been reminded that current policy requires our members to weigh the hazard presented by the violator against the risk created by the pursuit in all instances, as well as several other factors to be considered before engaging in or continuing a vehicle pursuit," a statement from state police reads.
ATV four-wheelers aren't legally supposed to be driven on Detroit city streets, but neighbors said that law isn't usually enforced.
State police released this statement on the chase:
"The troopers activated their emergency lights and siren, but the ATV driver refused to stop. The troopers pursued the ATV east on Rossini, and as the ATV approached Gratiot Avenue, the driver attempted to drive off the roadway onto the sidewalk, but crashed into the rear of a pickup truck."
State police also said the department is conducting its own investigation into the crash.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office said Grimes died from blunt head trauma.
Chief James Craig calls alleged use of Taser inappropriate
Police Chief James Craig held a news conference Sept. 1 to discuss the independent investigation of Grimes' death.
“Totally inappropriate, you just cannot deploy a Taser in that instance," Craig said. "That’s not appropriate use of a Taser.”
Craig said he was concerned when he learned about the fatality during a pursuit over a misdemeanor traffic violation. He said he called for an independent investigation when he learned about the possibility that a Taser was deployed.
“The state police have been a good partner,” Craig said. “They’ve been a good partner, they’ve helped us on many things, however this is one issue that our policy differs.”
Justice for Dae Dae
"It shouldn't have to be like this," said Monique Grimes, Damon's mother. "He was only 15. He enjoyed riding his bike. It wasn't like he committed any crimes. I just want justice for Dae Dae."
Hundreds of people showed up to a vigil Aug. 30, furious over the 15-year-old's death. Friends and family members were among those who gathered for the vigil, some of them around Damon's age.
The family wanted a remembrance of Damon, but it quickly got out of hand, as a small group of young men were trying to incite a problem, Local 4's Mara MacDonald reported. They began chanting, "F--- the police" as stoic officers tried to diffuse the situation.
Damon's family members told them to stop, but it was a tense half hour until the crowd finally moved on. Police had to close down Gratiot Avenue briefly.
Clergy members and citizens demonstrated outside Kym Worthy's office Sept. 8 as investigations are conducted by Michigan State Police and the Detroit Police Department.
"We cannot afford to have a miscarriage of justice in this case," said David Alexander Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church. "This is not the time for drawn out investigations and political posturing. The Wayne County Prosecutor must act swiftly."
Worthy released the following statement that afternoon:
“Although I am prohibited from commenting on the investigation of the recent ATV fatality of 15-year-old Detroiter Damon Grimes, I think that it is important for the public to understand the procedure the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office (WCPO) follows in all police involved matters. Members of my office that will be assigned to the case have met with the family of Mr. Grimes to explain this procedure. There a two separate and independent investigations in this case. One is being conducted by the Detroit Police Department, and other is being conducted by the Michigan State Police. The law enforcement investigations must be completed before WCPO receives the warrant request in the case. Once it is received, we conduct a completely separate and independent investigation before making a charging decision. We do this because it is important for us to take the time to closely look at the facts and evidence, so that we can be right. This is the standard procedure followed in every police involved incident that comes to our Public Integrity Unit, and it will be followed in the case of Mr. Grimes.”
Detroit police launch independent investigation
Detroit police Chief James Craig said during a news conference Aug. 28 his department will launch an independent investigation.
"I am not a proponent of high-speed chases involving traffic infractions, or those involving misdemeanors," Craig said.
Craig said the investigation in no way negatively reflects on MSP, but that a situation such as this warrants an independent investigation.
$50 million lawsuit filed
Fieger filed a $50 million lawsuit on behalf of Damon Grimes' family, claiming the trooper has a history of using excessive forces. Fieger, who spoke during a news conference Aug. 30, compared the trooper to a cowboy.
"I cannot conceive, under any set of circumstances, a justification for a police officer doing a drive-by shooting of a child on an ATV," Fieger said. "This situation is not an isolated incident."
The lawsuit claims the trooper did not stop his patrol vehicle after Grimes crashed and instead drove away.
Mayor Duggan supports legislation to change MSP policies
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan released the following statement on Aug. 31:
"Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Damon Grimes. I fully support Chief Craig’s decision to have the Detroit Police Department conduct an independent investigation into the events leading up to his death. DPD will be presenting its findings to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
Police chases often have the potential for tragedy and the difference in the policies of the Detroit Police Department and the Michigan State Police highlight that concern. The Detroit Police Department policy is not to engage in high speed chases for traffic offenses or misdemeanors. In the case of felonies, the decision to continue a high speed chase is made by a supervisor.
I met with Governor Snyder and urged the State Police to adopt the City of Detroit’s policy when patrolling in our city. I also spoke with State Representative Sheldon Neely (D) of Flint and expressed my full support for his proposed legislation to require Michigan State Police abide by local pursuit policies when patrolling within the boundaries of a city.
I am encouraged that MSP leadership is taking steps towards changing its policy. Chief Craig and the Detroit Police Department will continue to work with them to ensure that safe policing procedures are followed in the city of Detroit."
Residents call for ATV park
Detroit residents called for an all-terrain vehicle park to be built after the tragedy.
Residents of Damon's neighborhood want to turn a vacant piece of land at Connor and Frankfort streets on the city's east side into an ATV park.
"We hope that we can acquire this particular parcel of land and give them something so they can have a legal place to ride, as opposed to being seen as always riding illegally, and things of that nature," community activist Oliver Gantt said.
Keeping the children busy, active and off the streets is the plan.
"It's definitely a safer place," Gantt said. "We need not only a safer place, but it's also giving something for the kids to do within the city of Detroit. They don't have absolutely anything to do. We just want a place, a safe place, for them to be able to come and enjoy these toys that their parents buy for them."