GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the trial began for a Grand Rapids police officer accused of carelessly firing his gun, the man police were moving to arrest when it happened was barred from taking the stand.
Officer Gregory Bauer is standing trial on a misdemeanor count of careless discharge of a firearm causing property damage less than $50.
On Dec. 9, 2021, the Grand Rapids Police Department said, officers were looking for a stolen car and suspect they thought was armed. They thought they saw the car parked at a home so they set up a perimeter and waited for the driver, Daevionne Smith, to come out. When he did, Bauer ran toward him and fired his gun. When Smith asked why, Bauer can be heard in body camera video saying, “I tripped.” The bullet hit a building and no one was hurt. It soon became apparent that Smith hadn’t done anything wrong and his car wasn’t stolen. Kent Count Prosecutor Chris Becker authorized the misdemeanor charge against Bauer in January.
Before opening statements, prosecutors worked to get the judge to allow Smith to testify. They argued it was relevant because he is the only witness who saw officers approaching him.
Judge Nicholas Ayoub seemed frustrated, saying he thought the prosecutors had agreed Wednesday that Smith’s testimony would not be needed and that the bodycam video would instead be at the core of the trial.
“It was absolutely just a change of heart, a change of position,” Ayoub said. “It is regrettable (prosecutors) essentially attempted to back out.”
He said Smith’s testimony would “district the jury” and “inflame their passions,” and feared it would turn the case from being about Bauer firing his gun to Smith wrongly being a suspect.
Bauer claims he tripped on an uneven lawn while running toward Smith, causing him to accidentally fire his gun. But in his opening statement, Assistant Prosecutor Felix Tarango argued Bauer never tripped.
“(Bauer) said, ‘I tripped, I stepped in a hole and I tripped and my gun went off.’ So what do the people go out and do? They start going out across that lawn, where he’s running from, to look for a hole, to find that hole. The person is going to come back and say, ‘I didn’t find a hole,'” Tarango said.
“He pulled the trigger as part of his habit,” Tarango said, saying Bauer was “negligent and careless once he (had) his gun out.”
He said that was despite Bauer being one of GRPD’s most “well-trained officers.”
“It’s kind of the same way in the military. He’s taught by his supervisors, his command structure on properly how to use the weapon. He’s got that training. Then he goes to the police academy. Guess what they train you there, too? They train you how to use your firearm,” Tarango said. “Specifically the placement of your finger on the guns.”
Defense attorney Mark Dodge argued that Bauer did lose his balance. He said he “highly contests” the prosecutor’s opening statement that Bauer never tripped.
Dodge previously asked to have the charge dismissed, calling it vague and overbroad to the case.
In his opening statement, Dodge instructed the jury to look at the case through the eyes of what a reasonable police officer would have done at the time.
“The fact that an accident occurred does not by itself mean defendant was negligent, reckless, careless. The fact that property damage doesn’t necessarily mean that there was negligence, carelessness or recklessness,” Dodge said.
The defense called Roger Enoka, a physiology professor from Colorado, as a witness. Enoka said he’s found many times that tripping causes a officers to have an involuntary muscle reflex, which leads them to unintentionally fire their gun. Enoka said the fact that a shot was fired does not mean Bauer must have had his finger on the trigger before he tripped.
Technical difficulties with Zoom, which was being used for testimony, slowed the trial’s pace Thursday and led to a 10-hour day. The trial is expected to continue Friday.
— News 8’s Byron Tollefson contributed to this report.