The family of Deven Guilford, a 17-year-old who was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop in Michigan, is suing the officer and Eaton county over the death. The suit comes months after the Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd announced that the officer, Sgt. Jonathan Frost, won't face charges in the death. According to Lloyd, Frost pulled the white teen over on February 28, after he flashed his brights at Frost. Following a brief altercation, Frost shot Guilford seven times at close range. Guilford was unarmed.
In June, the Detroit Free Press offered a detailed account of what happened, according to Lloyd:
Guilford was stopped for flashing his bright lights at the officer, which is a civil infraction. He then refused to provide his driver's license, registration and insurance after repeated requests, which Lloyd said is a misdemeanor that can lead to arrest. When Frost tried to make the arrest, Guilford resisted, which eventually led to an altercation in which Frost used his Taser. Eventually, the two struggled and Guilford ended up on top of Frost in a roadside ditch, hitting Frost. At that point, Lloyd said, Frost felt he needed to defend himself and used his service revolver to do so. He eventually fired seven shots, all of which hit Guilford.
The incident was pieced together using footage and recordings from Guilford's phone and Frost's body camera.
In a statement released at the time, Guilford's family said the whole tragic incident was wholly unnecessary. "Based on what we know at this time," they said, "Our family believes that our son should not have been killed on the night in question… There was no reason or necessity for the officer to physically remove our son from the car without considering other options to avoid an unnecessary violent escalation."
Now, the family is seeking wrongful death damages in a lawsuit. According to the complaint, Guilford only flashed his brights at the officer to alert Frost that his car's lights were blinding, as others had done earlier in the night. With this in mind, the complaint alleges that the traffic stop was in itself illegal.
The complaint continues to describe a disturbing escalation, instigated by Frost (emphasis mine):
Without waiting for backup and without giving GUILFORD any prior command to exit the car FROST opened the driver’s side door and grabbed GUILFORD and started pulling him out. FROST then drew his taser, pointed at GUILFORD and told him to exit the vehicle. GUILFORD complied… FROST continued to escalate the situation and unreasonably treated GUILFORD as if he were a dangerous felon, ordering him to get down on his knees and then to lie face first in the ice and snow beside the road. GUILFORD complied.
The complaint notes that Frost tased Guilford because Guilford turned to face him while on the ground, and that the action prompted Guilford to fight back. A few seconds later, Frost shot and killed the teen.
Cynthia Heenan, an attorney at the firm representing Guilford's family, said the incident implied a frightening relationship between officers and citizens. "Deven's tragic and totally unnecessary death represents a disturbing trend of demanding 100% compliance with police authority, coupled with zero tolerance of risk of harm to police officers," Heenan told the Press.
Guilford's family and their supporters have been posting to a Justice for Deven Guilford Facebook page. In a statement posted to the page back in September a person who identified as a member of the Guilford family commented on why they are pushing for answers: "We are NOT anti cop! We are NOT anti Eaton County! All we are asking for is accountability… As more evidence comes out, let it speak for itself."
The Eaton County Sherriff's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.