Detroit — A former Michigan state trooper was sentenced to at least five years in prison Monday for causing the death of a Detroit teen who crashed an all-terrain vehicle after he was shot with a Taser. Judge Margaret Van Houten said Mark Bessner used poor judgment when he fired the immobilizing device from the passenger seat of a moving patrol car.
Bessner was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after a second trial in April.
"You abused the public's trust. ... 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," the judge said.
The maximum penalty is 15 years in prison, but Bessner will be eligible for parole after five. He quit the state police after the August 2017 incident.
Bessner and a partner were patrolling a Detroit neighborhood when Damon Grimes, 15, drove an ATV near their car. The white troopers turned around and pursued the black teen. As they got closer, Bessner fired a Taser, which releases stainless steel barbs.
Grimes crashed into a parked pickup truck and died. Bessner said he believed the boy had a gun in his waistband, but Grimes didn't have a weapon.
"A child is a terrible thing to lose," a family member, Helen Stinson, told the judge. "To sit at the table and see his empty chair. To look at his empty bedroom has become more than we can bear."
Bessner acknowledged the "tragedy" and turned to the family to apologize. He said he wished he could step into a "time machine" and change what happened.
"It is a no win-situation for police out there," said Bessner, who added that it's impossible to perform perfectly.
Two months before Grimes' death, an arbitrator had clearedin how he used his Taser while chasing a crime suspect in a different incident. State police wanted to suspend Bessner for 10 days for firing his Taser twice at a handcuffed man who was running away in 2016. But the arbitrator said there was no "just cause" for discipline.
In 2014, Bessner fired his Taser at a suspect who was handcuffed. He agreed to a five-day suspension, records show, but four days were eventually dropped. It apparently was his first case of misconduct.
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