Judge goes above guidelines, sentences ex-trooper to 5-15 years for teen's Taser ATV death

A judge went above the guidelines Monday when she sentenced a former Michigan state trooper to 5-15 years in prison for his role in the death of a Detroit teen in the summer of 2017. 

Mark Bessner was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Damon Grimes for firing a Taser at him while he was riding an ATV. Grimes crashed into a parked car and later died.

Bessner quit the state police after the incident. He returned to court Monday for his sentence, about a month after his conviction. The family of Damon Grimes was also in the courtroom and two family members spoke before the sentencing was handed down. The guidelines suggested a sentence of 19-38 months. 

"Mr. Bessner, you abused the public trust placed in police officers by your actions that day. Your actions make it more difficult for the thousands of men and women who put on a uniform and badge every day to go out and perform their duties. It is the few officers like you who have caused the distrust of police officers that plagues our community in Detroit, the state of Michigan and throughout the country. For these reasons, I'm going to go above the guidelines," Wayne County Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten said.

She added that two other factors that she said caused her to go above the guidelines, because they were not adequately considered in the sentencing scoring: the young age of Grimes, because "his reasoning skills were still developing," and the second being the specialized and extensive training Bessner had as a police officer with the use of Tasers. 

She also seemed to reject the claim that Bessner deployed his Taser because he believed Grimes was reaching for a gun in his waistband. 

"If he truly believed Grimes was armed he would've searched him for a weapon and informed his partner of this immediately, which he did not do until after the ambulance had left the scene. In fact, his words over the radio immediately after the Tasing were, 'He slowed down. We Tased him. Check that, I Tased him.' That statement is very telling. That is the obvious time Mr. Bessner would've stated that he thought Grimes was reaching for a weapon, but this is glaringly silent at that point," she said.

That day in August of 2017, Bessner and his partner came upon dozens of people riding ATVs down Fort Street. They spotted Grimes doing a wheelie and tried to pull him over. 


Bessner, who is white, said at his first trial - which ended in a mistrial - that he was "shocked" to learn that the black teen didn't have a gun. Bessner did not testify at his second trial. 

"You spoke of where he lived, and this area is a high risk for violence. On those thoughts alone, you assumed our son imposed some sort of danger to you, fellow citizens or to himself. You were wrong. A threat to you or others he was not," Grimes' aunt Helen Stinson said. She also asked that Bessner think of his own child when they graduate, or go on a first date, or when they have kids of their own because Damon will never be able to do those things now. 

Bessner spoke of his 5-year-old daughter to the judge, asking Judge Van Houten to sentence him on the low end of the guidelines so he could return home and be with his daughter. 

"Unlike the family of Damon Grimes, Mr. Bessner at some point will be reunited with his family. And he still can talk to his daughter on the phone, he still will have some contact with his fmaily. The Grimes family will never have him back," Judge Van Houten responded.

Bessner apologized to Grimes' family, turning around and looking them while he spoke before the judge. He called that day a tragedy. 

"I want the Grimes family to know I am sorry," he said turning to face them. "I think about it every day and if there was a time machine I could jump into and go back and change it, I would. But I can't.

"I can't imagine what it'd be like to lose a child. I don't want to imagine it."

Bessner's wife Sarah spoke with media after learning her husband fate.

"Mark is not that cop. He has life-saving awards ... He's a good cop," she said.

Bessner's attorney Richard G. Convertino issued a statement expressing disappoinment about the ruling:

"I am very disappointed that Trooper Bessner was sentenced today to almost double the recommended guideline range. Law enforcement officers today are placed in an untenable position everyday they put on their badge. We demand officers to be 100 percent correct in situations that are highly tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving. In this case Mark Bessner acted in a split-second when he thought Mr. Grimes was armed and a threat. A confluence of events on August 26, 2017 resulted in a horrific tragedy and the ruination of two families. Hopefully the Grimes family will now find some peace. Mark Bessner will appeal."