GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A jury decided a Grand Rapids police officer was not careless when he fired a shot while running toward a man last year.
Officer Gregory Bauer was found not guilty Friday of misdemeanor careless discharge of a firearm causing property damage less than $50.
Earlier Friday, Bauer took the stand in his own defense. He said he accidentally fired his gun after he stepped in a hole and tripped. When asked if he ran with his finger on the trigger, he replied, “Absolutely not.”
“I’m running. I felt myself step in the hole and the jarring at the bottom of the hole and that’s when my finger slipped off the slide and pulled the trigger,” Bauer said. “I almost didn’t even recognize what had just happened. I know that a shot went off, but my brain was like, I don’t know what happened.”
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.
Friday was day two of testimony in the trial. The prosecution argued Bauer did not trip and said the body camera footage showed he brought his finger down to the trigger during the foot chase, which it said was enough to prove careless discharge. Prosecutors spent two days trying to prove that Bauer has made a habit of slipping his finger into the trigger well, which is against standard protocol.
“We have to show that he was careless and that has been shown,” Assistant Prosecutor Felix Tarango said. “With all the other officers that were present … nobody else fired the weapon. Judge, that is exactly what the law says is not sufficient evidence of negligence.”
The defense argued the shooting was simply an accident, citing Bauer’s former military service, police service and shooting matches that it said showed Bauer is not only one of the most qualified officers on the force but also that he is consistent in following protocol.
Testimony from several officers involved in the situation could not clearly state if Bauer had the habit of mishandling his firearm.
“I could not tell if he tripped or not. If he tripped, I can’t tell from the video if he did that,” GRPD Officer Michael Reed said.
The judge reminded the jury that the firing of a weapon did not prove Bauer’s guilt, but that the prosecution had to show Bauer did not trip and he was negligent.
During the trial, Smith was barred from testifying. The judge said his testimony would “distract the jury.”
“This is one of the first times I’ve ever felt so powerless, to sit back and actually watch this go on and not able to do nothing about it,” Smith said following the verdict Friday. “Y’all made me feel like I don’t matter. My life don’t matter. Everything that I went through and I’m still continuously going through doesn’t matter.”
Smith said he’s disappointed there would be no consequences for Bauer. Smith filed a lawsuit against the department and the city following the incident. The suit is ongoing.
“(Bauer) have plenty of experience, more than an average police officer on how to handle your weapon. You didn’t handle your weapon in the proper manner. That makes it careless,” Smith started. “Any case that I have ever seen, you bring forth all evidence that matters. How can you say that the officer’s testimony as a witness is more important than my testimony as a witness and I’m the one who’s getting ambushed.”
The case was handed over to jurors around 4:40 p.m. They came back with their decision in only about an hour.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said Tarango following the decision. “It was a difficult decision, a difficult case. This case was talked about in our office to see if there was enough (evidence) and our office basically came down on the position that if you or I or a person in that situation were in similar circumstances, would we charge that individual? If an individual is running with a handgun in those conditions, in the dark, in unknown territory, would we charge that person? And the answer is yes.”
When asked, the defense said they questioned the validity of the charge to begin with. Defense Attorney Mark Dodge went on to say he believes the jury made the right decision.
“That was an example of the beauty of our justice system when a mere allegation is made. We’re looking through the entire case, the evidence, expert testimony because what was ultimately determined is that officer Bauer did nothing inappropriate whatsoever on this occasion and I’m just relieved for him and his family now that this is over with,” said Dodge.