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Worthy charges former MSP trooper with murder, 3 Detroit cops with assault

Michigan State Police patrol vehicle shield
Michigan State Police

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has charged a former Michigan State Police trooper and three Detroit police officers with a slew of serious crimes, including second-degree murder.

Former MSP trooper Mark Bessner faces the murder charge. He’s also charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Bessner deployed his taser from a patrol car during a police chase in Detroit this summer, leading 15-year-old Damon Grimes to crash his ATV. Grimes died from his injuries. Bessner resigned from the MSP soon after.

Worthy also charged three Detroit officers with assault and other crimes for three separate, violent altercations she calls clear police abuses.

“We’re certain, and we’re confident, that we can bring these officers to justice on behalf of their victims,” Worthy said. “We will never turn away or run away from a tough case, even if it involves law enforcement.”

The Detroit Police Department conducted the investigation into the Grimes case.

Chief James Craig says the teen’s death “troubled” some Detroiters, especially those living in the east side neighborhood where the incident happened. State troopers temporarily stopped patrolling the city’s Ninth Precinct as tensions flared after Grimes’ death.

But Craig said most Detroiters and DPD officers “welcome” MSP patrols in Detroit, and dismissed any notion of tension between the two police agencies.

Craig said police abuse cases can erode public trust, and “any time an officer violates the oath of office, it is a stain on all of us. But we should remember it does not reflect the vast majority of the men and women who do this work.”

State Police spokesman Lt. Michael Shaw called Bessner’s actions “criminal in nature,” and said MSP supports the decision to charge him with murder.

“I want to apologize on behalf of all the department to the Grimes family,” Shaw said. “The conduct of Bessner isn’t something that we teach. It’s not anything that we condone.”

Grimes’ family is suing the state and MSP for $50 million.

Worthy did not charge two other state troopers involved in the police chase preceding Grimes’ death, including the driver of the patrol car. Shaw says now that criminal investigations have concluded, the MSP will launch its own review and the officers could face professional sanctions.

Craig says two of the Detroit officers charged, Lonnie Wade and Richard Billingslea, are now suspended with pay. Craig says he will ask the Detroit Police Board of Commissioners to make that without pay.

The third officer, Edward Hicks, left Detroit to work for the King’s County Sheriff’s Department in Washington State. Craig says he plans to notify that agency about Hicks’ situation.

Wade was caught on video beating a man with his baton after a verbal altercation outside a Detroit Meijer, where Wade also worked as a security guard. Wade suspected the man of shoplifting, though it was later proved he had not. Worthy said the man was never physically aggressive toward Wade during the encounter, even when he was being beaten.

Billingslea is accused of beating and pepper-spraying a man after a verbal confrontation outside a Detroit Mobil station. Billingslea also allegedly disposed of a witnesses’ cell phone, which had captured the beating.

Hicks is accused of beating a man after a brief foot chase. The victim suffered injuries that required hospitalization. Hicks also allegedly encouraged the victim to lie about what happened to an intake officer at the Detroit Detention Center.

Worthy declined to file charges against a fourth Detroit officer, Jerold Blanding, in the fatal shooting of Raynard Burton. Worthy said evidence supported Blanding’s claim that the shooting was justified.

All of the incidents occurred this year with the exception of Hicks’ case, which happened in August 2016. Bessner, Wade and Billingslea are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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