Detroit – A police officer has been fired after he was caught lying on a report about an encounter in which he was driving his patrol car, and his partner launched a Taser out of the car’s window, targeting a teenage boy on an ATV, which resulted in the boy’s tragic death.
Damon Grimes was just 15 years old when he was killed last year after Michigan State Trooper Mark Bessner deployed his taser, striking Grimes while he was riding his ATV. The shock sent the boy careening into a parked truck, and he died. Bessner is awaiting trial for murder and now, reports claim that his partner was fired for falsifying the police report of the incident.
Trooper Ethan Berger was fired following the teen’s tasing death because he lied on his police report. The details of the internal investigation were made public this week after the Detroit Free Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents. According to the Michigan State Police Department’s own Internal Affairs investigation, Berger not only knew about the Taser being deployed by his partner riding, who was shotgun in the patrol car, but he also covered it all up. Following the discovery and video evidence of the alleged murder, Berger was fired.
According to the IA report, dated March 19, the department directly accused the officer, saying:
You knew the other trooper committed criminal offenses for which he was later charged…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.
The scathing rebuke of the officer continued:
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.
Grimes’s death was shocking, to say the least. Berger and Bessner were pursuing Grimes, who was quite possibly unaware they were following him. As the cruiser approached the ATV, Bessner reached through the passenger side window where he was riding, fired his Taser, and immobilized the teen who then slammed into the back of a parked pickup truck and died. The IA report also rebuked Berger for not rendering first aid to Grimes, while the teenager lay dying on the street.
Berger could—and probably should—still be charged as an accomplice in Grimes’s murder but District Attorney Kym Worthy has declined to charge him, citing insufficient evidence.
Also disciplined was an MSP supervisor who failed to include pertinent details in his report following the accident. Sergeant Jacob Liss failed to inform his superiors that Grimes had been tased from a moving police vehicle. The office of Internal Affairs for MSP rebuked Liss for failing to mention the taser in email correspondence with command officers shortly after the murder. The report claimed:
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…Neither email contained any information about a Taser deployment.
Not only was Liss complicit in hiding details of the tasing from his superiors, in text messages with MSP Det. Sgt. Todd Poppema, it is clear that Liss meant to keep quiet the knowledge that Bessner tased the teenager from a moving squad car while Grimes was riding his ATV. Poppema was informed in a phone call from a member of the Grimes family that a taser had been used.
In an attempt to assure the family member that the teen was not tased, Poppema reached out to Liss in a text message. He asked Liss to, “check (everyone’s) Taser from the chase today? Maybe have them downloaded to show no use…Family is claiming he was Tasered.”
Liss responded, “Yes. I will take care of it.”
Berger is still drawing his salary as his firing is being appealed and is currently in the arbitration process. Representing Berger is the Michigan State Police Troopers Association.
In a grievance filed on behalf of Berger, the trooper claimed the punishment was not fair and wrote, “The proposed discipline should be set aside or significantly reduced.”
Bessner is scheduled to be tried for the 15-year-old’s murder this summer. Berger has been fired, and Liss has been reprimanded, but nothing can bring back the teenager who was simply going on a joyride through town. We at The Free Thought Project will keep you up to date with any developments in the officer’s trial.
Grimes’s case serves to illustrate the long-held belief by critics of law enforcement that not only will police kill unarmed individuals, but they will do their best to cover up evidence of their culpability.