Dezjanai Grimes, left, and Dezanique Grimes, right, speak to the press May 13 following the sentencing of former Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner in connection to the death of their brother, Damon Grimes.

Dezjanai Grimes, left, and Dezanique Grimes, right, speak to the press May 13 following the sentencing of former Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner in connection to the death of their brother, Damon Grimes.

Photo by Brendan Losinski


Former state trooper sentenced to 5-15 years for involuntary manslaughter

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published May 13, 2019

 Former Michigan State Trooper Mark Bessner was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison for deploying a Taser at 15-year-old Damon Grimes during a vehicular pursuit in August 2017, which resulted in Grimes’ death.

Former Michigan State Trooper Mark Bessner was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison for deploying a Taser at 15-year-old Damon Grimes during a vehicular pursuit in August 2017, which resulted in Grimes’ death.

File photo by Deb Jacques

DETROIT — On May 13, former Michigan State Trooper Mark Bessner was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison for his role in the death of 15-year-old Detroit resident Damon Grimes.

On Aug. 26, 2017, Bessner and his partner, Ethan Berger, encountered Grimes illegally riding an all-terrain vehicle in the area of Rossini Drive and Gratiot Avenue in Detroit, and gave chase. Bessner fired his Taser at Grimes while both vehicles were going approximately 40 mph. Prosecutors said the shock of the Taser caused Grimes to lose control of the ATV and crash into a parked vehicle, which brought about his death.

After a mistrial in October of 2018, a new trial for Bessner began in April, which resulted in a guilty verdict on the charge of involuntary manslaughter April 17. He was found not guilty on the other charge of second-degree murder.

Damon Grimes’ mother, Helen Stinson, and sister, Dezanique Grimes, both addressed Bessner prior to the sentencing in Judge Margaret Van Houten’s courtroom in 3rd Circuit Court.

“I would like to tell you about Damon Grimes, our son — Dae Dae as we liked to call him,” said Stinson. “He was a wonderful, intelligent, bright, lovely, smart, respectful and thoughtful young kid who wanted only happiness. He was the type of son even you would have been proud to have. … He was a light in our lives which will never shine again.”

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Penney asked the court for a strict minimum sentence, citing the death of a minor and the higher standards placed on police officers.

“We all want to believe that the people sworn to protect us are going to check their baggage at the door, and they will use their common sense and rationality when they approach us and they approach their jobs, but that didn’t happen here. That’s why he’s being punished,” Penney said. “He’s being punished for a grossly negligent act. It’s not retribution. It’s not some type of political thing, as some people allege. It’s nobody’s fault except Mark Bessner’s. … At the end of the day, the person with the badge has to be the bigger person.”

In his final statement to the court, Bessner’s attorney, Richard Convertino, said that Bessner was a good and dutiful member of the Michigan State Police.

“(Police officers on this beat) perform an average of 15 traffic stops per day. Multiply that out over a week, a month, a year, and you get to thousands of traffic stops and thousands of public interactions in a high crime area,” said Convertino. “The overwhelming majority of contacts were good and were laudatory. … Listen to the videos. You’ll see Mr. Bessner was kind, respectful, informative and courteous.”

Convertino also reiterated his assertions that Bessner was responding to a potential threat and made a split-second decision.

“This was a tragic loss for everybody,” Convertino said. “(His mother) told the court, ‘Mr. Bessner, when you patrol the streets in a neighborhood you thought was violent, you thought Damon Grimes was violent, but you were wrong.’ He was wrong. He was wrong, and in less than two seconds he had to make a decision in an intense, rapidly evolving, highly uncertain situation. What we expect from officers is they can’t be 99% right. … They have to be 100% right — that’s what’s expected of them — and he made a decision in a high tension situation when he was placed between someone he thought was a threat and Trooper Berger who controlled the vehicle. (Bessner) didn’t have any control. He didn’t decide to engage.”

A tearful Bessner spoke to the court, apologizing to the family of Damon Grimes and asking the judge for a lenient sentence.

“I’m truly sorry. I think about it every day. If I could get into a time machine and change the outcome, I would, but I can’t,” he said in court. “I understand their anger … but I hope and I pray that you can issue a fair and just sentence and take all the testimony in this case into account. … It is a no-win situation for police. You try your best to make the best possible decisions, but you can’t make the right decision every time. We don’t hold doctors to that standard and we don’t hold lawyers to that standard.”

Bessner asked for mercy for the sake of his family.

“I call my daughter every night at 7:25 p.m. because I know she’s getting ready for bed. I tell her I love her and she asks me every night the question I dread. ‘Daddy, when are you coming home?’ and I don’t know what to answer her,” he said to Van Houten. “I ask you to use the lower end of the guidelines, because every day I’m away it makes my wife a single mother and forces my daughter to grow up without a father.”

Van Houten went above the recommended minimum sentence of 19-38 months dictated by court guidelines.

“Mr. Bessner will be reunited with his family one day. He can still speak with his daughter on the phone. Damon Grimes never will be able to,” she said. “A few factors need to be taken into consideration. Damon Grimes was 15 years old and his reasoning skills were still developing, while Mr. Bessner was a grown man and a trained law enforcement officer. He was trained in the use of a Taser, and he was warned to be more careful in his use of a Taser prior to the incident in which Damon Grimes died. He received specialized training, which included taking fall risks into account.”

Following the sentencing, Dezanique Grimes said that although the sentence was most likely the best the court could do, no amount of time would be enough for the man who took her brother away.

“No (amount of) time is good enough,” she said. “I think he thought he was going to get away with it. … Every day we can’t move on. Every day we walk past his room and he’s not there. … We will never get over this. Every year we will get to his birthday and think, ‘He would be 17 years old now’ or ‘He would be playing football now.’”

Van Houten added that among the reasons for her sentence was the loss of esteem for law enforcement officers that results from an incident of this nature, and how that makes the jobs of law enforcement more difficult.

“Mr. Bessner, you abused the trust placed in you,” she said. “It has become more difficult for law enforcement officers due to actions like yours. You have reduced the public trust in the police.”

Dezanique Grimes reinforced this by remarking that she would very likely never be able to trust a police officer again.

“They were supposed to protect and serve us, and they were not protecting or serving us,” she said. “When I have to deal with the law, I have to be nervous, I have to be scared. Should I say something? Should I do something? Are they going to tase me? Do I have to fear for my life?”