Mistrial Declared in Case of State Trooper Charged in Detroit Teen’s Deadly ATV Crash

A mistrial has been declared in the trial for a former Michigan State Police trooper charged in a Detroit teenager’s ATV death.

Jury members told the judge Tuesday that they couldn’t come to an unanimous verdict . Judge Margaret Van Houten said Wednesday that the court has “no choice but to accept their hung jury and their mistrial.”

Mark Bessner is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. He’s accused of firing his Taser at 15-year-old Damon Grimes while the teen was riding an ATV last summer.

Grimes crashed and couldn’t be revived.

On Tuesday, the judge told the jury to go back and keep at it on day two of deliberations.

“This is like a hurry up and wait situation,” said Oliver Gantt, a family friend of the Grimes family.

Gantt has been in court every day and was anticipating a verdict on Tuesday.

“Based on the evidence presented in this case, the family is optimistic,” Gantt said. “It’s our job to keep them optimistic.”

The prosecution and the defense were both using dashcam video from the incident to try to prove their cases. Prosecutors said it shows Bessner’s wrongdoing, but the defense claims Bessner was in danger.

Hung jury, mistrial declared
Jury deliberations continued Wednesday, with the jury returning without an outcome about 2:20 p.m.

The jury began their Wednesday deliberations at 9 a.m.

“We did receive two notes yesterday indicating that they were hung,” said Van Houten. “One midday. We gave them the deadlocked jury instruction. Then they sent another note out at the end of the day indicating they still were at a deadlock. We asked them to go home and sleep on it and come back in the morning fresh.”

“They’ve been at it all day today and they’ve sent out yet another note that reads, ‘We have exhausted all conversation, review of the video, review of the written material and still have a hung jury.’ So at this time I think we have no choice but to accept their hung jury and their mistrial.”

There was no objection from either side, and the jury was brought back into court.

“Thank you for all your efforts in this trial but it looks like we’re going to have to try it again sometime in the new year,” the judge said. “On behalf of both parties and myself, we thank you for your efforts in this case. It’s no fault of your own. Sometimes 12 people just cannot agree after hearing all the evidence, and so we thank you for your efforts in this case.”

Van Houten said they’ll set up for pretrial. That pretrial conference, where a date for a retrial will be set, has been scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Bessner has been wearing a tether throughout the case.

Case background — Aug. 26, 2017
Bessner is accused of firing his Taser from a moving patrol car on Aug. 26, 2017 while in pursuit of Grimes, who was shocked by the Taser and crashed the ATV into the back of a pickup truck at Rossini Drive and Gratiot Avenue. Grimes died from his injuries that day. The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said the official cause of death was blunt head trauma.

State police said Bessner and his partner had tried to stop Grimes for “reckless driving” but the teen fled on the ATV. Troopers pursued.

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.

The trial against Bessner began earlier this month. He faces second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges. Dashcam video of the incident was shown in court, along with testimony from several witnesses.

Bessner testifies about pursuit, Taser use
Bessner took the stand last week . He said normally they wouldn’t have engaged in a pursuit because the ATVs and motorcycles can outmaneuver police on the streets and accelerate at high rates of speed. However, he said he found it odd that the ATV driver had slowed down in this case and allowed him and his partner to catch up and follow.

Bessner said he thought Grimes was armed as he and his partner pursued him on Rossini Drive. He was certain the teen had a weapon on his waist and he thought his own life was in jeopardy as he and his partner pulled up next to Grimes.

The now-former trooper testified he made a quick decision in what he considered was a deadly-force situation. He recalled making eye contact with Grimes, still believing he was in pursuit of and confronting an armed man, not an unarmed teen. The former officer said he feared he might be ambushed.

“I did the only thing that I thought I could do at the time, and I deployed the weapon that was in my hand,” said Bessner.

Read and watch more of Bessner’s testimony here — click here .

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.

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.

Source: https://amp.clickondetroit.com/news/mistrial-declared-in-case-of-former-state-trooper-charged-in-detroit-teen-s-deadly-atv-crash?fbclid=IwAR11HwqAyHIIpHwDIE1E8wc9LjpdfUD5ZQrhWiQ1lF5ADsAweNLkAJxGp5c