Eaton County, MI — The family of Deven Guilford filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan against Eaton County Sheriff Deputy Jonathan Frost and Eaton County.
Around 8:00 pm on February 28, 2015, the 17-year-old Grand Ledge High School was shot seven times by Eaton County Deputy Sheriff Sgt. Jonathan Frost. While he was driving to his girlfriend’s house after playing basketball at his church, Deven was stopped because he momentarily flashed his bright lights to alert the oncoming officer that his brights appeared to be on. Five minutes later he was dead.
During this traffic stop, it appears that Deven was puzzled and confused about why he was pulled over and why he was being confronted and ultimately arrested by the officer. The officer did nothing to calm or de-escalate the situation. Instead, Frost rapidly became argumentative and agitated when Deven asserted that the officer had been driving with his high beams on and resisted producing his ID. The entire encounter lasted just over 5 minutes and the backup Frost had called for, before he ever touched Deven or his vehicle, arrived barely a minute after the fatal shots were fired.
The lawsuit alleges that Frost’s entire course of action was illegal and in violation of Deven’s constitutional rights. The momentary warning flash of high beams does not violate Michigan law. Hence, Frost had no right to pull Deven over, demand his paperwork, arrest him or require him to exit the vehicle. The force used was excessive and unnecessary. The suit also alleges that the County failed to properly train, supervise or disciple Frost and/or condoned unconstitutional practices, such as making illegal traffic stops.
Brian Guilford, Deven’s father and the Personal Representative of Deven’s Estate, is represented by Hugh “Buck” Davis and Cynthia Heenan of Constitutional Litigation Associates, P.C., a Detroit firm specializing in police misconduct litigation.
“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. Whatever happened to “protect and serve?” Ms. Heenan said.
“When every governmental budget is overloaded with military and law enforcement spending (including courts, jails, prisons, probations, etc.) the decades-long push for ‘law and order’ and the failed ‘War on Drugs’ has made us a de facto police state,” said Mr. Davis.
On Wednesday, Deven’s parents released the following, heartwrenching statement:
As we take this action today we are outraged at the huge miscarriage of justice done to our son Deven Guilford.
For three months we agonized in confusion trying to figure out how our son, who had never even been in a serious fight, was shot seven times coming from basketball at church and going to his girlfriend’s to watch movies. We played scenarios over in our minds trying figure out how Deven could have acted so out of character and attacked Frost as they told us he had.
Since the moment we viewed the body camera footage our confusion has turned to outrage over what was done to Deven at the hands of Frost and the whole Eaton County “justice” system.
We always had great respect for law enforcement and the men and women who chose that profession in the past. But we must say that belief has been shaken to the core by the actions of Frost and refusal of the Eaton County Prosecutor to hold Frost accountable. The failed criminal justice system forces us to seek other avenues for some kind of JUSTICE FOR DEVEN.
Supporters will hold a rally at the state capitol on Saturday, October 24th from 2-5 p.m. Please show your support if you are in the area.
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the officer’s body cam and the footage from Deven’s cell.