Ex-trooper charged in teen’s ATV stun gun death had previous Taser misconduct

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DETROIT — Michigan State Police tried but failed to suspend a trooper for his use of a stun gun months before he fired a Taser at a teenager who crashed an all-terrain vehicle and died, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. Mark Bessner is charged with murder in the death of Damon Grimes, but it wasn’t his only incident involving a Taser. Details are in personnel documents released to the AP through a public records request.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 an arbitrator said there was no “just cause” for discipline.

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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.

Bessner, 43, now faces serious legal trouble. He was charged last week with second-degree murder in the August death of Damon Grimes of Detroit, who was joyriding on an all-terrain vehicle when the trooper fired his stun gun. The 15-year-old crashed and died.

Bessner, who quit the state police after the teenager’s death, has pleaded not guilty and is being held on $1 million bond. Prosecutor Kym Worthy said there was no reason for him to fire his Taser — especially from a moving patrol car.

“His behavior was criminal. We’re not trying to pull the rug over anyone’s eyes,” a state police spokesman, Lt. Mike Shaw, said Tuesday.

Just two months earlier, an arbitrator had cleared Bessner of misconduct in how he used his Taser while chasing a crime suspect. The man was handcuffed during a traffic stop in Detroit but suddenly sprinted away and was able to clear fences.

Bessner said he believed the man must have slipped out of the cuffs so he used his Taser twice to subdue him. It was a wrong assumption. It’s generally against state policy to use a stun gun on a handcuffed person who’s in custody.

Arbitrator Steven Lett, however, found technical distinctions. He said the man was “no longer in custody” as soon as he ran away.

“The question is whether the officer’s actions are objectively reasonable in light of all the facts and circumstances,” Lett said, quoting a training guide from the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

If the 10-day suspension had been affirmed, it would have triggered an additional four days from the 2014 incident that were being held in abeyance, Shaw said.

Bessner’s personnel file shows he faced a third misconduct allegation in March. State police said he was driving at high speed without emergency lights or sirens. The case apparently wasn’t resolved before he quit last fall.

Bessner’s file also includes praise for his work. He was recognized by the department for saving a woman who had overdosed on heroin. “Best wishes for continued success,” Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue wrote in February 2017.

cbs news, , “Ex-trooper charged in teen’s ATV stun gun death had previous Taser misconduct”, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ex-trooper-charged-in-teens-atv-stun-gun-death-had-previous-taser-misconduct/

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3 current, former Detroit police officers charged in separate assaults

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announces charges in cases involving police officers at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press

Among those charged is an officer who allegedly beat a customer at the Meijer in Detroit while working security there.

 

One man was beaten with a baton, breaking several teeth.

Another was punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed.

A third man was pummeled in the face.

They’re separate incidents with a common thread: Current and former Detroit police officers are accused of assault in each case.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced the charges in a news conference Wednesday, saying her office won’t shy away from tough decisions and tough cases.

“We will never turn away or run away from a tough case even if it involves law enforcement,” she said.

In addition to the Detroit officers, Worthy also announced charges against a former Michigan State Police trooper in connection with the death of a teen shot who crashed his ATV after being shot with a Taser.

Two of the Detroit officers and the state trooper are expected to be arraigned Thursday, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the criminal charges don’t reflect the work being done by the majority of police officers.

“Anytime an officer violates the oath of office, public trust, it is a stain on all of us,” he said, “but we should remember it does not reflect the vast majority of the men and women who do this work.”

Before Worthy announced her charging decisions, the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality issued a statement saying citizens deserve to be protected from rogue officers.

“It is clear that the Detroit Police and Michigan State Police Departments nurture a culture of irresponsible action on the part of their respective police forces,” the statement said in part.

Detroit Police Officer Lonnie Wade, 65, was charged in the assault of David Bivins at the Meijer store on West 8 Mile Road on Oct. 10. Wade, who was in a police uniform while moonlighting as a security officer, struck Bivins with a baton, including in the face and head. Worthy said Bivins was struck in the mouth, breaking several of his teeth.

Worthy said there are several videos of the incident. She said the incident started after Wade approached Bivins asking about items in his shopping cart. Bivins, according to prosecutors, said his girlfriend had the receipt, which Worthy said she showed to Wade.

Worthy said Bivins and Wade began arguing. She said Wade attempted to arrest Bivins on disorderly conduct charges after hitting him with his baton.

“Mr. Bivins did refuse to be arrested, but at no time, the evidence shows, did he make any physical threat or verbal opposition other than trying to pull himself backwards,” Worthy said.

Wade is facing charges of felonious assault, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder and two counts of misconduct in office. He’s expected to be arraigned Thursday.

Bivins, 24, spoke at a news conference at attorney Geoffrey Fieger’s office after the charging decision was announced. He said he hasn’t watched video of the beating all the way through.

Bivens, who is a cook at a Ferndale restaurant, said before the incident he wanted to be a police officer, but that is no longer his dream today.

“I would like to believe that police officers in a way police themselves, but if that is true why are we here today?” he said.

Bivens has filed a lawsuit seeking in excess of $25 million against Meijer, Wade, three other security guards and another Detroit police officer moonlighting at the store.

Craig said Wade has been on restricted duty, no gun status since October and will now be suspended with pay. Craig said he plans to recommend to the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners that Wade be suspended without pay.

Craig said he plans to ask that another officer facing charges in connection with an assault, Richard Billingslea, be suspended without pay. He, too, will immediately move to suspended with pay from restricted duty no gun status.

Billingslea, 25, is accused of assaulting Michaele Jackson at a Mobil gas station in an incident caught on cell phone video. Worthy said Billingslea pepper-sprayed Jackson, who was intoxicated and not a threat, threw him to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked him.

Worthy said Billingslea is also accused of turning off his body camera and throwing away the cell phone being used by D’Marco Craft to record the incident. Worthy said the phone was retrieved from a trash can later by another officer.

Billingslea, who is also expected to be arraigned Thursday, has been charged with assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice, misconduct in office and assault and battery, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Also charged is former Detroit Police Officer Edward Hicks, who is accused of assaulting Deonta Stewart in August 2016, then telling him to lie about his injuries.

Craig said Hicks is currently working for a sheriff’s office in the state of Washington. Craig said that agency would be notified.

According to the prosecutor’s office, Stewart was walking when Hicks and his partner drove up and Hicks yelled for him to stop. Worthy said Stewart ran, but stopped and laid on the ground when he realized police were chasing him. She said Hicks then allegedly punched Stewart in the face multiple times.

Worthy said Hicks allegedly tried to get Stewart to lie about how he was injured.

Hicks is facing charges of assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and misconduct in office.

Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, said the officers are entitled to due process. He said Billingslea and Hicks are currently being represented by DPOA attorneys.

“It’s the prosecutors’ burden to prove that they did something wrong,” he said. “And, to be very blunt, we have to remember that.”

At the news conference Wednesday, Worthy also announced that her office denied a warrant request in connection with the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Raynard Burton by a Detroit police officer in February.

She said the shooting happened after officers saw a speeding Pontiac Bonneville and chased it. The car sped away, crashed and Burton ran, ignoring requests to stop. Worthy said Burton was shot by one of the officers, who said Burton had grabbed for his gun.

An autopsy found he died from a single, close-range gunshot wound to his right chest, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Worthy said the investigation found that the Bonneville had been taken in a carjacking two days earlier and the victim in that case later identified Burton during a photo lineup as the alleged carjacker.

Gina Kaufman and Elisha Anderson, Detroit Free Press, Dec. 20, 2017, “3 current, former Detroit police officers charged in separate assaults”, https://www.freep.com/story/news/2017/12/20/3-detroit-police-officers-charged-separate-assaults-citizens/969035001/

6 Detroit police officers under investigation for misconduct

Associated Press Published 12:00 p.m. ET Nov. 1, 2017

Detroit police officials say six officers are under investigation for misconduct related to events that took place at the scene of a reported break-in over the weekend.

WDIV-TV reports that responding officers asked five members of a renovation and cleaning crew at the scene for work papers. They also ran checks on the workers’ names and licenses.

A complaint filed with the department alleges that an officer then ordered the men to run. The complaint says it was a way to humiliate the black contractors.

An investigation into the officer has been opened by the Office of the Chief Investigator, which is the investigative staff for the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. The other five officers are under investigation for not intervening.

Lawsuit: Detroit police officer caught on tape body-slamming man ‘WWE-style’

Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press Aug. 25, 2017

Detroiters D’Marco Craft and Michaele Jackson are suing the city of Detroit and two 5th precinct officers, claiming they were maced and beat up for no justifiable reason at an east side gas station in May.

A trip to a gas station to buy cigarettes turned into a night of terror for two Detroit men who say they were ambushed by two rogue police officers — including one who allegedly maced and body-slammed one of them  “WWE-style.”

But while the assault went down, the men claim, one of them caught it all on video.

In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court, Detroiters D’Marco Craft and Michaele Jackson are suing the City of Detroit and two 5th precinct officers, claiming they were harassed and physically attacked for no reason at an east side gas station in May.

Jackson, a 38-year-old bus driver with the Detroit Department of Transportation who claims to have a longstanding good relationship with police, said he never saw it coming.

“I went down WWE-style. I hit the racks with the Twinkies and the Ho Hos … It was like a nightmare,” Jackson said at a news conference today at his lawyer’s office in Southfield. “I feared for my life.”

Jackson said he never threatened the officers or made any physical contact with them, but was maced from behind while walking away and then thrown to the ground and beaten. He said he was placed under arrest that night and transported to an emergency room by ambulance for injuries — including bruises and cuts — sustained in the attack.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he has seen the plaintiffs’ video of the incident and is concerned by it. However, he said,  the gas station also has a video of the event and offers more details about what led up to the officer firing mace at Jackson.

“When you look at the store video, there is certainly more activity that led up to that,” Craig said. “The suspect did take a swing at the officer. I could not tell if that swing made contact.”

When asked if he was concerned about the officer spraying the mace after Jackson had walked away, Craig said: “That’s a concern, I’ll be candid. But I’m not prepared to make a decision.”

According to Craig, Officer Richard Billingslea — the accused attacker — has been working a desk job since shortly after the gas station incident and is still getting paid. He said it’s up to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to decide if Billingslea engaged in any criminal activity that would warrant criminal charges.

Craig said that if  Worthy decides not to bring charges, he will address the issue administratively. He said the police will release the gas station video later.

The other officer is Hakeem Patterson, who is accused in the lawsuit of standing by and letting the attack happen

Worthy’s office said it has received a warrant request regarding only Billingslea, but that it has not yet made a charging decision.

According to Craft, a 26-year-old criminal justice student who was taping the incident on his iPhone and has had past dealings with Billingslea — here is what went down at the gas station that night:

The two officers were already at the gas station when he and Jackson arrived. Craft recognized Billingslea — claiming the officer had harassed him multiple times in the past year, including driving by his house and flipping him off in front of his mother. So when Craft saw Billingslea inside the gas station, he left to avoid any confrontation.

But the officers followed Craft out of the store, with one of them hollering out to him: ” ‘You aint’ buying nothing today?”

Craft responded no “Cuz I know how you are. F— you.”

Craft said he suggested to his friend they go elsewhere for smokes.

Jackson saw no reason for that. So he went inside to buy his smokes. On his first attempt, Jackson claims he was tackled and thrown to the concrete face-first. On his second attempt, while at the counter, he claims he turned around and was maced in the face and eyes by Billingslea, who then threw him to the ground.

“Billingslea, without any warning whatsoever, then put his right arm around Mr. Jackson’s throat and violently spun Jackson around and body-slammed Mr. Jackson to the floor,” the lawsuit states. “Billingslea threw Mr. Jackson down to the ground so hard that Jackson was thrown at least 3-4 feet and landed on the floor after first slamming into a metal rack of Hostess treats, such as Snoballs and Dingdongs.”

According to the lawsuit, police told Jackson he was going to be charged with resisting arrest. However, the prosecutor’s office denied a request for an arrest warrant. To date, he has not been charged.

Craft, who was videotaping the incident, said the officers threatened to arrest him if he didn’t hand over his phone and passcode — so he obliged. The officers then smashed his phone on the counter and threw it in a nearby trash can, but another officer later retrieved it, he said.

According to Craft, his phone was held in a police evidence room for one month before he got it back. The video of the gas station incident was not released.

Neither man has any criminal convictions, records show.

Craft described Billingslea as a vindictive officer who smiles when he harasses people. He said Billingslea once got in his face and did a karate-chop move, grinning as he did to intimidate him.

Attorney Ari Kresch, one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, lambasted the police department for keeping Billingslea on the job and accused the force of “protecting rotten apples.”

“Why, why is Officer Billingslea still on the job?” Kresch said, disputing claims that Jackson fought the officers or resisted arrest.

“They’ve got to stop lying,” Kresch said. “This investigation should take only 30 minutes.”

Across the country, verdicts in police-brutality lawsuits range from tens of thousands of dollars to tens of millions of dollars.

On the higher end, a federal jury in Detroit awarded a $36.6-million verdict last November to a man who was beaten, dragged,  had his face smashed into a wall and was tied down with a bag over his head inside the Genesee County jailhouse in Flint. A jailhouse camera captured the incident. The jury saw the graphic video and delivered the verdict, which is rare for this area.

In 1999, a jury in Chicago awarded a $28-million verdict in a police brutality case that involved two police officers who beat a man into a coma who also became paralyzed.

In 1992, the City of Detroit paid $5.2 million to the family of Malice Green, an African-American man whose beating death at the hands of two white police officers triggered a firestorm of controversy. Green was beaten in the head with a flashlight after refusing to open his hand and allegedly relinquish a vial of crack cocaine. The two officers, Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers, were convicted in his death.

Kresch questioned why police won’t show the plaintiffs the gas station video, noting he’s asked for the video, but police won’t give it to him.

Craig said releasing the video right now is premature.

Kresch said Craig is mishandling the case.

“It’s a culture of backing up your officers,” Kresch said. “The chief was reckless.”

 The lawsuit is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

“The only thing that changes behavior is jail or money,” Kresch said. “In this case, there should be jail and money.”

Tresa Baldas, Aug. 25, 2017, Detroit Free Press, Lawsuit: Detroit police officer caught on tape body-slamming man ‘WWE-style'”, https://www.freep.com/story/news/2017/08/25/detroit-police-officer-caught-on-tape/602214001/

Detroit police officer facing child porn charges suspended

Ann Zaniewski , Detroit Free Press 3:41 p.m. ET Feb. 22, 2017

A 29-year veteran Detroit police officer has been suspended amid allegations that he received and possessed child pornography.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig called the claims outlined in a federal criminal complaint against Miguel Angel Martinez “deeply troubling.”

“Any time a police officer makes a decision to engage in alleged criminal acts, and this one is particularly troubling, certainly it’s a stain on the Detroit Police Department,” Craig told reporters at a press conference this afternoon. “It’s not reflective of the entire organization.”

A sergeant from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office in Reno, Nev., working undercover was using a peer-to-peer file sharing program when he discovered files that appeared to reference child pornography linked to a computer IP address that belonged to Martinez, who lives in Trenton.

Read more:

The sergeant was able to download 14 “incomplete but viewable” files from the IP address between Sept. 5 and Sept. 12, according to the complaint. The videos showed children engaged in sexually explicit conduct, the complaint says.

A review of a law enforcement database indicated that the same IP address has been observed sharing at least 100 files that are of interest to child pornography investigations. And on two dates in January, that IP was observed sharing child pornography, according to the complaint.

Federal investigators searched Martinez’s home Tuesday and seized computer-related items. During an interview, Martinez told investigators he “may have seen” child pornography files, the complaint says.

Craig said Martinez has been suspended with pay. If charges are filed, the status would change to a suspension without pay, he said.

Martinez worked as a patrol officer on the west side of the city. Craig said he’s not aware of any other allegations of wrongdoing against him.

“His deputy chief referred to him as an average officer, nothing stellar that stood out,” Craig said.

It was not immediately clear this afternoon whether Martinez has an attorney.

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2017/02/22/detroit-miguel-martinez-child-porn/98260658/?platform=hootsuite

Six Detroit Police Officers Suspended in Towing Scandal

Accused of taking bribes for funneling work to one towing company; more officers may be suspended as the FBI probe continues.

DETROIT, MI — Six Detroit police officers were suspended Tuesday, accused of taking bribes from a towing company owner in exchange for funneling work to the firm.

A police source familiar with the investigation said some of the cars sent to the company by officers were stolen, the Detroit News reports. Detroit Police Chief James Craig would not confirm the details of the FBI probe, but said the officers are expected to be indicted soon.

“It’s still an active investigation,” he said. “This investigation has been going on for some time, and we have our own internal investigation which is ongoing.” He added that more officers could be suspended.

The officers have been suspended with pay, pending the outcome of the investigation, Craig said.

Protocol calls for officers to rotate jobs to the 23 tow companies authorized to remove vehicles for the police, the News reports. Different companies are assigned specific areas in the city. The police source told The Detroit News the six suspended officers allegedly were paid by one tow company owner to bypass the other firms on the list.

“The FBI Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force has an ongoing investigation, and we’re working in partnership with the DPD internal affairs,” FBI spokesman Tim Wiley said.

Craig said he was troubled by the accusations against his officers.“We take this alleged criminal misconduct seriously,” he said. “I’ve always said: It’s troubling when officers make decisions to commit crimes. It tarnishes not just our department, but our entire profession.”

Detroit Police Officers Association president Mark Diaz said the officers were suspended for conduct unbecoming an officer, but said he didn’t have any further details.

The controversies surrounding the police towing operations have been well-documented. The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, which oversees towing operations, struggled for years to institute new rules that were fair to all tow companies that do business with the city, after claims of cronyism and corruption surfaced.

Whenever towing was discussed at police board meetings, lawyers for tow companies and owners of towing firms often packed the room.

Board chairman Willie Bell said there recently were complaints about the towing process which were being investigated by the police department’s internal affairs unit.

“I’m pleased DPD internal affairs looked into it,” he said. “We just renewed the towing process for the tow companies. This has been a controversial point for many years now. We try to be fair to all the companies.”
Board vice chairman Ricardo Moore added: “We have solid tow rules in place, but if a member changes the rules to benefit themselves, no one is safe.”

In May 2013, the City Council voted to nearly triple its towing fee, from $75 to $215. That doesn’t cover storage.

https://patch.com/michigan/detroit/six-detroit-police-officers-suspended-towing-scandal?platform=hootsuite

Detroit deputy testimony spurred wrongful conviction of 14-year-old boy

Aamer Madhani , USA TODAY 7:25 p.m. ET June 7, 2016

 

A young Detroit man who wrongfully pleaded guilty to killing four people when he was 14 will soon be released from prison, prosecutors say.

Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan on Tuesday vacated the 2008 conviction of Davontae Sanford who had been serving a 37- to 90-year sentence for the quadruple homicide.  Sanford, who is now 23, inaccurately confessed to police to a hit man-style quadruple homicide in a drug den on Detroit’s northeast side.

He plead guilty to four counts of second degree homicide on the advice of an attorney, who is now suspended from the practice of law.  In April 2008, two weeks after Sanford’s sentencing, a professional hit man, Vincent Smothers, confessed to the quadruple homicide in the drug den and eight additional murders.

Smothers also gave an affidavit last year admitting to the killings and made clear that Sanford was not involved. But the case languished for years as the boy grew from a teenager to a man while incarcerated.

“No one can give Davontae Sanford and his family back the nine years he has spent in jail for a crime he did not commit, but the court’s decision today corrects a grave injustice,” said Heidi Naasko, Sanford’s attorney.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that it along with defense counsel attempted to file a stipulated order to dismiss all charges against Sanford on Tuesday, but Sullivan moved first, signing an order immediately vacating Sanford’s conviction and sentence.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement that she would address her decision to move to dismiss charges against Sanford on Thursday.

The announcement of Sanford’s release comes after Michigan State Police launched an investigation into the killings last year and submitted their findings to Worthy’s office last month.

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That report included a recorded interview with Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert in which the cop contradicted testimony that Sanford had drawn a detailed diagram of the crime scene, including location of the victims’ bodies, when the boy was questioned by police in 2007, according to the prosecutor’s office.

“This called into question Tolbert’s credibility in the case,” the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.

Tolbert, who went to serve as the Flint, Mich., police department chief in 2013, was fired from that position earlier this year.

Sanford — who was assisted in his legal battle by Dykema Gossett, the Michigan Innocence Clinic, the Northwestern Center for the Wrongful Convictions of Youth, and Michigan’s State Appellate Defender’s Office — could be released from prison as early as Wednesday.

“Davontae’s family, friends and supporters knew from the outset that he was innocent and wrongfully convicted,” Sanford’s family said in a statement. “As the judge’s order confirms, Davontae had nothing to do with these murders. We are grateful to those who have fought for many years on Davontae’s behalf and thankful to soon have Davontae home with us.”

 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/06/07/detroit-deputy-testimony-spurred-wrongful-conviction-14-year-old-boy/85573360/?platform=hootsuite