Michigan State Police suspends vehicle chases following ATV death

DETROIT, MICH. - Michigan State Police has prohibited troopers from engaging in vehicle pursuits involving misdemeanors and traffic violations following the death of a Detroit teenager who was being chased by a trooper Saturday. 

State Police Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue released a statement Thursday saying the department is "reassessing its pursuit policy." In the interim, effective immediately, "troopers patrolling in the city of Detroit will be prohibited from engaging in vehicle pursuits resulting from a traffic violation or misdemeanor offense." 

The ban applies only to Detroit, said Etue. However, she also noted that all State Police officers "have been reminded that current policy requires members to weigh the hazard presented by the violator against the risk created by the pursuit."

On Saturday evening, 15-year-old Damon Grimes died after crashing his four-wheeled, all-terrain vehicle into a pickup during a high-speed chase with a trooper. Trooper Mark Bessner, who was trying to get the teen off the road, reached out the passenger window of his patrol car and shocked the teen with a Taser, according to a source familiar with the case.   It's a violation of Michigan State Police policy to deploy a Taser from a moving vehicle. 

Detroit police are investigating the incident and the death of the unarmed teen.

►Related: Death of tasered teen who crashed ATV ruled accident

On Thursday, Mayor Mike Duggan weighed in on the matter, specifically focusing on the issue of high-speed chases. 

"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," Duggan wrote in a news release, noting that he supported Police Chief James Craig's decision to have the Detroit Police Department conduct an independent investigationinto the events leading up to the teen's death.

The Detroit Police Department has a policy not to engage in high-speed chases for traffic offenses or misdemeanors, and in the cases of felonies, the decision is made by a supervisor, Duggan explained.

 

Duggan noted that since Damon's death, he has met with Gov. Rick Snyder and "urged the State Police to adopt the City of Detroit’s policy when patrolling in our city."

State Rep. Sheldon Neely, D-Flint, has proposed legislation requiring state troopers to follow local pursuit policies when patrolling within the boundaries of a city. Duggan wrote that he spoke with Neely and expressed support for the provision. 

"I am encouraged that MSP leadership is taking steps towards changing its policy," said Duggan. "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." 

On Wednesday, a $50-million lawsuit was filed against the trooper on behalf of Damon's parents, Monique and John Hughes. The federal lawsuit, which was filed in Detroit by attorney Geoffrey Fieger and assigned to U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain, was originally filed as a "John Doe" suit, as the firm had not yet confirmed the trooper's identity. 

Following the news conference, the Free Press confirmed the identity of the trooper involved in the incident as Bessner. 

Court records obtained by the Free Press indicate that Bessner, 43, who joined the State Police Metro Post in 2012 after serving three years with the Canton Police Department,  has a history of excessive force. Since 2013, two civil lawsuits, both involving Tasers, have been filed against Bessner.

The first, which was filed in 2013 in U.S. District Court in Detroit and settled a year later, alleges that Bessner "repeatedly struck" and "gratuitously kneed" an unarmed plaintiff, who was never charged with a crime.

The second case, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court in 2015, alleges that Bessner Tased the plaintiff on "multiple and continuous occasions with the specific intent of inflicting pain," including after the plaintiff was in handcuffs. 

On Wednesday evening, Bessner's defense attorney, Richard Convertino, released a statement to the Free Press in regard to his client, emphasizing that the teen refused to obey Bessner's commands to stop prior to the Tasing. 

"The death of Damon Grimes was tragic, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends," Convertino wrote in an e-mailed statement to the Free Press.

"On Aug. 26th, troopers attempted to stop Mr. Grimes, who recklessly and dangerously drove an ATV as he actively resisted and evaded arrest. During the pursuit, Trooper Bessner was forced to make a split-second decision under circumstances on the scene and at the moment which was tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving. 

"We are fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation and trust the investigators will assess the facts objectively in light of the totality of the circumstances.”

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© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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