Jury trial underway for state trooper charged in Detroit teen's fatal ATV crash

Mark Bessner accused of firing Taser from moving vehicle during pursuit

Mark Bessner at a pretrial hearing Monday, April 16, 2018. (WDIV)
Mark Bessner at a pretrial hearing Monday, April 16, 2018. (WDIV)

DETROIT – Former Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner's trial got underway Monday with jury selection. 

Opening statements began Tuesday.

UPDATEProsecution rests case in trial against former state trooper

Bessner is accused of firing his Taser from a moving patrol car on Aug. 26, 2017 while in pursuit of a 15-year-old boy who was driving an ATV in Detroit. That boy, Damon Grimes, was shocked by the Taser and crashed the ATV into the back of a pickup truck at Rossini Drive and Gratiot Avenue.

State police said troopers had tried to stop Grimes for "reckless driving," but the teen fled on the ATV. They pursued. 

Grimes died from his injuries that day. The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office said the official cause of death was blunt head trauma.

Damon Grimes

Bessner was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Bessner was suspended by the Michigan State Police for breaking protocol by firing a weapon out of a moving vehicle. He resigned in September 2017. 

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Bessner was a passenger in the patrol vehicle when he fired his Taser out of the moving vehicle.

UPDATEDetroit teen's ATV death trial opens with prosecutors questioning use of Taser

Worthy recommended the charges on Dec. 20 -- Bessner was officially charged on Dec. 21, 2018.

"First of all I want to apologize on behalf of my department, the Michigan State Police, to the Grimes family and what they've been through. And even though I can sit here and apologize and someone can be charged today for this crime, that boy is never going back to his family," Lt. Michael Shaw said in December.

State troopers now prohibited from engaging in pursuits in Detroit

This case changed the way state troopers patrol the city of Detroit. Troopers patrolling in the city of Detroit are now 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 wasn't usually enforced. 

Damon Grimes died Aug. 26, 2017 when an ATV he was riding crashed into a pickup truck on Detroit's east side. Grimes was being pursued by state police before the crash.

Detroit chief condemns use of Taser

Detroit Police Chief James Craig condemned the trooper's use of a Taser in this incident 

“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.”

Pre-trial testimony from Bessner

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2018, Bessner answered questions about a man he called after the incident happened on Aug. 26. He said he called Trooper Jay Harrison Morningstar, who was known as a "CISM," which stands for "critical incident stress manager." He was one of Bessner's union representatives. 

"Jay had told me, and several other troopers, on multiple occasions that whenever there is a critical incident to call him because of this recent statute that was passed, whereby he was a trained critical incident stress manager and everything he said to (me) and heard from me would be privileged based on his training as this 'CISM,'" Bessner said. 

Prosecutor: Did you believe your telephone conversation was privileged pursuant to the statute and pursuant to what Trooper Morningstar had represented to you previously?

"Absolutely," said Bessner. 

Moreover, Bessner said he met with Morningstar and had a conversation with him in a closed room at the detachment where troopers gathered after Grimes' fatal crash. He considered it another privileged conversation. 

He also spoke with Morningstar on the phone the next day, still believing these were privileged conversations with a CISM. 

"I wouldn't have talked to him but for that belief," Bessner testified. 

RELATED: Detroit police officer demoted over explicit tirade following teen's fatal ATV crash

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