(MULLIKEN, Mich.) — The family of Deven Guilford, a Michigan teenager fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in February, has filed a federal lawsuit against the officer as well as the county, calling the stop “illegal.”
In the complaint, the family accused Eaton County Sgt. Jonathon Frost of using “excessive force” and acting “in an intentional, reckless, malicious manner” when he encountered 17-year-old Guilford on Feb. 28.
The complaint says the officer’s actions were “part of the custom, policies and practices of the Eaton County Sheriff’s Department.”
“Under the Fourth Amendment, this was an unreasonable use of force,” said Hugh Davis, an attorney for the family.
Guilford was driving near Mulliken, Michigan, around 8:30 p.m. Feb. 28, when Frost drove by, heading in the opposite direction. When Guilford flashed his headlights “apparently attempting to get him to dim his headlights,” according to the complaint, Frost pulled him over.
Frost’s body camera captured some of his exchange with Guilford.
“Pulled you over because you flashed me,” Frost can be heard on the video. “I didn’t have my brights on.”
“Yes, you did, sir,” Guilford says.
“Nope, I didn’t, partner,” Frost replies.
Later, Guilford refused to give Frost his driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance and then asked Frost for his badge number. Guilford, who family members said was on his way to his girlfriend’s house after a game of basketball, then started recording the encounter with Frost on his cellphone.
Frost refused to give his badge number and then tried to remove Guilford from the car. According to authorities, Frost used a Taser on Guilford but it was ineffective. During a subsequent scuffle, in which authorities say Guilford attacked Frost, repeatedly punching him in the head and pinning him to the ground, the officer shot Guilford seven times.
Frost was hospitalized with facial injuries. The entire incident lasted less than 6 minutes, according to the complaint.
Davis said that Frost had no reason to arrest the teen that night.
“The act of forcing Deven out of the car was also illegal — an illegal arrest — then forcing Deven to lie down in the snow like it was a felony arrest, when he didn’t have a right to arrest him at all, and then Tasering him, just created this escalation, which was entirely generated by the officer and not by Deven,” Davis said. “He didn’t do anything wrong. … The officer had no reason to stop him. … [Deven] didn’t deserve to be shot.”
In June, the Eaton County Prosecutor’s Office cleared Frost of criminal wrongdoing, after examining Frost’s body camera video as well as cellphone video from Guilford. The office said that Frost “reasonably believed” Guilford posed a threat of “seriously bodily harm” or “death” and that Frost had acted in “self-defense.”
In a statement on Friday, Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich called the incident “a tragedy for everyone involved.”
“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. “The prosecutors conclusion was that the force used by Sgt. Frost was lawful. … 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. I stand by both of those determinations.”
The family is seeking a jury trial but did not disclose the amount of damages.
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