Saturday, January 16, 2021
A judge told former Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner on Monday that people like him have caused “the distrust of police officers that plagues our community in Detroit, the state of Michigan and throughout the country.”
Then she sentenced Bessner to 5 to 15 years in prison for the death of 15-year-old Damon Grimes.
The Detroit teen was driving his ATV in August 2017 on the city’s east side when Bessner — a passenger in a moving patrol car — fired his Taser at the teen during a chase. Grimes slammed into the back of a parked truck and died soon after from his injuries.
Last month, a Wayne County jury convicted Bessner, 45, of involuntary manslaughter. He has been locked up since.
“I’m truly sorry," Bessner said as he addressed the packed courtroom. “I think about it every day.”
If there was a time machine and he could change the outcome, he would, Bessner said.
He went on to say it is a “no-win situation” for police, adding that police try to make the best decisions.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten said Bessner’s actions contradicted his training. Then, as prosecutors had requested, Van Houten went above the sentencing guidelines, which recommended no more than 38 months as a minimum sentence. Van Houten's minimum sentence was 60 months.
The judge said the guidelines hadn't given enough weight to Grimes’ age and Bessner’s police training.
She told Bessner, who has a law degree, that he had abused the public trust placed in police officers.
"Your actions make it more difficult for the thousands of men and women who put on a uniform and a badge every day to go out and perform their duties," Van Houten said.
During his trials, the defense said Bessner believed Grimes was reaching for a gun in his waistband during the incident. Grimes did not have a weapon.
Van Houten said if Bessner truly believed Grimes was armed, he would have searched Grimes for a weapon immediately after the crash and told his partner.
She recounted Bessner saying on his police radio right after the incident: “He slowed down. We tased him. Check that, I tased him.”
“That statement is very telling,” Van Houten said. “That is the obvious time Mr. Bessner would have stated that he thought Grimes was reaching for a weapon.”
Helen Stinson, Grimes’ aunt, spoke during sentencing and said because of Bessner’s actions, their family member was taken from them.
“A child is a terrible thing to lose,” she said.
Prosecutors have argued Bessner had a history of using his Taser to punish those who opposed him and said, in this case, Bessner deployed his Taser without legal justification, causing Grimes to crash.
Bessner’s first trial ended with a hung jury last year. In both trials, he was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. This time, a jury convicted him on the lesser charge.
Bessner resigned from the State Police after the incident amid the criminal probe. He had been reprimanded before for using his Taser inappropriately.
Michigan State Police were patrolling in the city as part of the Secure Cities Partnership, an initiative launched in 2012 to bring additional police resources to high crime areas of Detroit, Flint, Saginaw and Pontiac.