WATCH: Troopers Accused of Trying to Cover up Death of Teen Who Was Tased Before ATV Crash

DETROIT — Two members of the Michigan State Police — including a field supervisor — attempted to cover up details of a fatal ATV crash in Detroit last summer, according to internal affairs reports obtained this week by the Detroit Free Press.

Michigan State Police fired trooper Ethan Berger for his conduct but he is fighting to get his job back. Disciplinary action also is pending against supervisor Sgt. Jacob Liss, who, at one time, was the partner of the trooper who caused the crash.

Berger was driving a patrol car Aug. 26 when his partner, Trooper Mark Bessner, fired a Taser at Damon Grimes, 15.

The teen, who was fleeing on an ATV, crashed into a parked pickup and died a short time later from his injuries.

“You knew the other trooper committed criminal offenses for which he was later charged,” a March 19, 2018, report detailing Berger’s alleged misconduct said. “You drafted a false police report with the intent of assisting the other trooper with avoiding discovery, arrest, trial, or punishment after the crime occurred.

“Your report intentionally contained significant deviations from the truth and what is shown on the videos, and your report was a clear attempt to justify your and the other trooper’s actions during the pursuit.”

The report, obtained by the Detroit Free Press under the Freedom of Information Act, goes on to say that Berger failed to “fully and truthfully answer questions” during the internal affairs investigation. It also criticized Berger for not immediately rendering first aid as Grimes lay dying in the street.

Berger did not respond to a request for an interview. Duane Hickok of the Michigan State Police Troopers Association — the union representing Berger — also didn’t return messages seeking comment.

Berger was not charged criminally, but Michigan State Police fired him March 29. He’s still collecting his salary while his case is being arbitrated, officials said.

“The proposed discipline should be set aside or significantly reduced,” Berger’s grievance appeal said. An arbitration hearing is scheduled for June 18.

In December, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Bessner with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Bessner is free on bond while he awaits trial, which is scheduled for August.

He resigned from his job last year.

In September, both men were suspended with pay amid the criminal investigation.

State Police internal investigations came after the criminal probe and included testimony troopers were compelled to provide. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that compelled testimony from officers can’t be used against them in criminal cases because it would violate their right against self-incrimination.

The internal affairs investigators also criticized Liss, the supervisor at the crash scene, for omitting key details from his report.

Investigators said Liss knew about the Taser use even before arriving at the scene because he was told over his police radio. At the scene, Liss saw pieces of Taser on the ground. Later that evening at the office, a trooper handed Liss a Taser wire found at the scene.

But Liss never mentioned the Taser in two emails he sent to command officers shortly after the incident.

“Both emails stated troopers were pursuing the ATV and it appeared the driver attempted to drive off the road onto the sidewalk, lost control, and crashed into the rear-end of a pickup truck,” the internal affairs report said. “Neither email contained any information about a Taser deployment.”

The full extent of Liss’ conduct is unclear from the documents provided to the Free Press. State Police redacted portions describing what Liss wrote and said in phone conversations about the incident.

Liss, who is still suspended, did not respond to a request for comment.

State Police criticized Liss for other omissions as well.

The night of the crash, Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Todd Poppema took a call from a relative of Grimes, saying there was video evidence showing the teen had been hit with a Taser. Poppema asked Liss to check everyone’s Taser and Liss said he would take care of it.

The report said, Liss didn’t tell Poppema until the next morning that Bessner used a Taser. Liss also didn’t mention in his report that he downloaded information from a computer chip in Bessner’s Taser or that he returned the device to Bessner.

“When conducting an investigation into a use of force incident, proper protocol would be to seize as evidence the item that was used (whether it be a baton, Taser, firearm, etc.),” said State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner. “It should be noted in this instance, Liss was not an investigator; he was the supervisor of Bessner and Berger. When MSP investigators subsequently became aware of the use of the Taser, they did seize it as evidence in the investigation.”

Michigan State Police internal affairs report on Trooper Ethan Berger’s alleged misconduct
The data Liss downloaded from Bessner’s Taser, which confirmed he’d fired it, was properly downloaded and preserved, prosecutors said.

Previously obtained records show Bessner was involved in 40 “use of force” incidents in less than four years, including one just three days before Grimes’ Aug. 26 death.

Bessner also had been disciplined previously for misusing his Taser, a device that delivers an electrical shock to temporarily immobilize its target.

The internal affairs investigation was completed in March and included a finding of misconduct against Liss, but the redacted documents don’t show any proposed discipline.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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