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Prosecutors: Trooper accused in teen's ATV death used Taser to punish

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view video at: https://www.freep.com/story/news/2018/06/07/detroit-atv-taser-case/676323002/

 

Forrest Harvey III, 26, recalls getting tased by MSP in July 2017. 

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Fifteen-year-old Damon Grimes was not the first young man on an ATV to land in the cross hairs of Michigan State Police Trooper Mark Bessner’s Taser.

Six weeks before Grimes crashed and died after being tased, Forrest Harvey III encountered Bessner in Detroit near 7 Mile and Hoover. Bessner emerged from his patrol car, ordered Harvey to raise his hands and then shot him with a Taser about 1 second later.

Former Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner,

Former Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner, left, stands over the unconscious body of Damon Grimes in Detroit on August 26, 2017. This image is a video frame grab from Detroit Police body cam footage. Pixelation of Grimes’ body was embedded in the video file by Michigan State Police. 

In court documents reviewed by the Free Press, prosecutors argue that Harvey’s case is part of a pattern of abusive behavior Bessner inflicted on select Detroit residents. They paint a picture of a rogue trooper with an authority complex who repeatedly used violence to punish “a specific class of people.”

In addition to Harvey’s case, prosecutors point to three other cases where they say suspects were tasered unnecessarily, sometimes while handcuffed. Prosecutors want jurors to know Bessner’s history when the ex-trooper stands trial in August for second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in Grimes’ death.

They’ve asked Wayne County Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten to allow the evidence. A hearing is scheduled for June 22 to consider the request.

Bessner’s attorney, Richard Convertino, didn’t return messages seeking comment.

‘You’re under arrest now’

In an interview with the Free Press this week, Harvey recalled being in jail when he saw Bessner’s picture in a television news report about the Grimes case.

“I was like, ‘that’s the same guy that had tased me on my 4-wheeler,’ ” Harvey said, adding that he wasn’t surprised by the accusation against Bessner.

In their request to admit the other cases, prosecutors describe Harvey’s arrest as it appeared on video captured by a dashboard camera in a State Police patrol car.

“Why did you shoot me?” Harvey screamed, after seizing up and falling from his 4-wheeler onto the pavement at a gas station, where he’d stopped. 

“Shut up … you’re under arrest right now,” Bessner said back. “You blew it … you’re not trying to flee with your wheels up. You were doing wheelies on 7 Mile you idiot … trying to get away.”

More on Freep.com:

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Ex-Michigan State Police trooper’s murder trial delayed until August

Comments caught on police body cam video get officer reassigned

Bessner is heard accusing Harvey of resisting arrest by refusing to get on the ground and show his hands. Harvey, 26, of Detroit said: “I never resisted. I was shutting the bike off.”

Prosecutors use the description to bolster their case.

Over 25 hours of video and audio detail an ATV crash in Detroit involving 15-year-old Damon Grimes, who was allegedly tased by Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner during a chase in August of 2017.

“These other acts show (Bessner) intended to punish Damon Grimes for opposing his authority and that the Tasering was not an accident,” Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Penney wrote in a request to present the four cases. “These acts further show (Bessner) systematically used his Taser to punish those who opposed him.”

Penney’s request also describes video footage from a camera mounted in Bessner’s patrol car before Grimes crashed Aug. 26 on Rossini Drive near Gratiot. In April, the Free Press published videos from patrol cars and Detroit Police body cameras showing the aftermath of the chase, but State Police withheld video from Bessner’s patrol car. 

“Grimes does not make any aggressive motions or gestures during the chase,” Penney wrote. “MSP protocol bars using Tasers from moving vehicles, as well as using them against people who may be controlled by less dangerous techniques.”

Bessner resigned his job amid the criminal investigation. It happened before he could be disciplined in the two most recent cases, prosecutors wrote. 

Other cases

In all, prosecutors want jurors to know about four other tasering cases involving Bessner. Here’s how they describe those cases:

  • Aug. 18, 2017: Eight days before Grimes died, Bessner and his partner Ethan Berger, stopped a car near 7 Mile and Mound with a foul-mouthed, drunken man in the passenger seat. Bessner yanked the man out of car while Berger pressed his Taser against the man and pulled the trigger repeatedly. The man said he didn’t resist and said “I don’t want to fight,” prosecutors said. The man said on the video that he was struck in the face.
  • July 14, 2017: Bessner and Berger chased Harvey on his ATV near 7 Mile and Hoover, after they observed he popped a wheelie. They left off their lights and sirens for most of the chase and Harvey told the Free Press this week he didn’t realize he was being stopped. Dash camera video doesn’t show any aggressive behavior toward Bessner before the tasing, prosecutors wrote. An internal review found Bessner violated policies covering both chases and taser use.
  • April 12, 2016: Bessner twice deployed his Taser on a handcuffed man who had run away from a traffic stop near McNichols and Gratiot. Prosecutors say the suspect displayed no active aggression. State Police sought to discipline Bessner for misusing his Taser but an arbitrator declined to impose a 10-day suspension.
  • Sept. 17, 2014: Bessner deployed his Taser four times on a suspect, including once after the man was handcuffed, prosecutors said. Bessner agreed to a five-day suspension in the case, though four of those days were held in abeyance, according to State Police records obtained by the Free Press.

Bessner was not charged with crimes in any of those cases. Wayne County prosecutors charged all four defendants with assaulting, resisting and obstructing a police officer, as well as with other crimes, court records show. All four men reached plea deals. Prosecutors stand by their charging decisions in those cases, a spokeswoman said.

Prosecutors also asked to exclude from trial any character witnesses Bessner may try to call. They also don’t want jurors to hear any mention of the lawsuit filed by Grimes’ family against Bessner.

Courts can exclude evidence of previous behavior that was never charged, but prosecutors want this information included to show that the Taser shot fired at Grimes was intentional, not accidental. 

One man who was tasered, Michael Laidler, told the Free Press this week, that State Police are “Taser-happy” and that he was hit with multiple jolts.

“I literally thought they were going to kill me with that damn Taser,” he said. “That Taser f—in’ hurts.”

Court records say the video shows Laidler falling to the ground screaming after being tased by Berger. It also includes Bessner saying “give me your f—ing hands,” while Laidler says “I don’t want to fight. I’m not resisting. My hands are behind my back.”

Harvey told the Free Press that he’d stopped his ATV but Bessner never gave him a chance to put up his hands before firing the Taser, which knocked Harvey to the ground.

Harvey, whose grandfather was a Detroit Police officer, said he still believes there are good officers out there, despite his experience with Bessner.

“I don’t feel like he should have had to use a Taser on me,” Harvey said. “He could have went another way about it.”

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