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Friday, May 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Fatal Traffic Stop Over Headlights, Dad Says

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) - A police officer who pulled a teenager over for using his high beams ended the illegal stop by shooting the boy to death, the teen's father claims in a federal complaint.

It's been eight months since 17-year-old Deven Guilford flashed his high beams at Eaton County Sgt. Jonathon Frost, believing the officer had his bright lights on and was blinding oncoming traffic, according to the Oct. 14 complaint.

Frost's body camera captured most of the Feb. 28 encounter, and Guilford also recorded much of the stop on his cellphone before Frost is seen forcing the phone from the teen's hand. The videos have been posted online.

Guilford was one of three drivers the sheriff's officer stopped that day for signaling him in this way, the complaint states, despite no law against doing so.

Though Frost maintains on the video that he did not have his bright lights on, the teen argued otherwise and said the lights could have caused an accident.

Frost requested Guilford's driver's license and registration, which Guilford did not provide, at first stating he was on his way to get it. Guilford requested Frost's badge number, which the officer did not provide.

"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," the complaint states. "Frost then drew his taser, pointed at Guilford and told him to exit the vehicle. Guilford complied."

Frost can be heard on the video ordering Guilford to lie face-down on the road, while pointing what the complaint calls a Taser at him.

Guilford complies with the direction after asking for clarification, then repeatedly asks what Frost is doing as he is ordered to put his hands behind his back.

"According to Frost, Guilford looked back at him, which Frost claimed he had been trained to interpret as an indication that the arrestee was going to get up and attack the officer," the complaint states.

Guilford is heard crying out as it appears Frost then uses his Taser on him in the video. There is an apparent scuffle, during which the screen is mostly dark.

Then, seven popping sounds are heard, accompanied by what sounds like a loud scream.

The complaint says backup vehicles arrived within a minute of Frost fatally shooting Guilford.

Frost, who claims that the teen was on top of him and striking him when he fired, was placed on paid administrative leave but never charged with a crime.

The Eaton County Prosecutor's Office followed up that announcement with photos it says were taken after the traffic stop. Frost's face has streaks of blood and an apparent laceration on the forehead.

A news release from the Eaton County prosecutor's office says Guilford attacked the officer after he was shot with the stun gun.

"Sgt. Frost reported that Deven had quickly jumped from the ground and knocked him backwards after the Taser deployment," according to the news release. "Deven was swinging his fists. Sgt. Frost backpedaled from Deven and reached for his sidearm. Deven hit him in the head several times with his right fist. Sgt. Frost fell to the ground and Deven sat on his hips, repeatedly punching him in the head.

"Sgt. Frost decided to shoot his attacker, in part because he feared that if he lost all consciousness Deven would take his gun and shoot him," it continues.

A GoFundMe campaign supporting Frost claims that the officer and his family have received threats over the incident. With 24 donations, the campaign has raised $1,235.

Guilford's father Brian is suing Frost for illegal seizure and wrongful death, and suing both Frost and Eaton County for excessive force. He is represented by Hugh Davis with Detroit-based Constitutional Litigation Associates.

Davis said the Guilfords were not always convinced that the officer was completely to blame.

"They believed, until the official report and video came out, that Deven must have done something to deserve what happened, because they have such a deep and abiding faith in law enforcement," Davis said in a phone interview. "From their point of view, it's kind of shattered their universe."

But to Davis, who said he has received multiple complaints about the Eaton County Sheriff's Department, it was no surprise.

The attorney noted that people all over the country have spoken out against Frost's actions. They have filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act, and they started an online activist network. The family and supporters will host a rally on the Capitol steps on Oct. 24 at 10 a.m., he said.

"It's incomprehensible to us that [Frost] got his nose in it because Deven accused him of having his bright lights on," Davis said. "That's not a real good reason to kill somebody."

The Eaton County Sheriff's Department has not returned calls and emails seeking comment.

Editor's Note: Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich released a statement Friday supporting Sgt. Jonathan Frost and the prosecutor who declined to press charges.

"The last thing that Sgt. Frost or any law enforcement officer wants to do is to be put into a position where he is compelled to use his firearm to defend his life," Reich said. "But when that occurs, it is understandable and reasonable that a decision to use a firearm will be challenged and scrutinized by many sources."

Reich said the prosecutors concluded "that the force used by Sgt. Frost was lawful, based upon his honest and reasonable belief that he faced a serious and imminent threat of great bodily harm or death."

"My office conducted an internal review, which determined that Sgt. Frost had not violated Eaton County Sheriff's office regulations, general orders and his training," Reich added. "I stand by both of those determinations."

Devan Guilford's death led the sheriff's department to review how it trains officers on using their Tasers, among other things, according to the statement.

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