Originally published on June 18, 2015, at NationofChange.org
An Eaton County prosecutor decided on Tuesday not to issue criminal charges against an officer who shot and killed an unarmed high school student during a traffic stop. While attempting to notify a sergeant that his high beams were possibly on, 17-year-old Deven Guilford was detained, pulled out of his vehicle, and shot with a Taser before losing his life in a violent struggle. Both Guilford’s cellphone and the sergeant’s body camera recorded the incident as events rapidly spiraled out of control.
After dropping his brother off at a church in Grand Ledge, Michigan, Deven Guilford noticed an approaching police vehicle that appeared to be driving with its high beams on by mistake at 8:25 p.m. on February 28. In an attempt to notify the driver of the police SUV, Guilford flashed his high beams twice at Eaton County Sgt. Jonathan Frost. Although two other drivers had flashed their high beams at Sgt. Frost earlier that night to warn him of his new vehicle’s extremely bright headlights, Sgt. Frost decided to pull over Guilford.
According to the video recorded from Sgt. Frost’s body cam, he exited his patrol car and announced, “Stopping this car for flashing me with their brights. I did not have my brights on.”
As Frost approached Guilford’s vehicle, he requested the teenager’s driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance while informing Guilford that he had been pulled over for flashing his high beams. Although it is illegal to flash your high beams at an oncoming vehicle, Guilford explained that he believed Frost had been driving with his high beams on and possibly endangering lives. Instead of initially admitting two other drivers had also warned Frost about his bright headlights earlier that night, Frost repeatedly ordered Guilford to hand over his identification.
Instead of producing his documents, Guilford asked to see Frost’s identification and badge number. When Frost refused to show Guilford his badge number, the teen pulled out his cellphone and began recording the incident as Frost called for backup. Guilford held up his phone and told Frost, “I am video and audio recording for my safety and your safety.”
After Frost again refused to show Guilford his badge number, Frost informed the teenager that he was being detained for flashing his high beams and refusing to hand over his identification. When Guilford admitted that he did not have his driver’s license, Frost finally disclosed the fact that two other drivers had flashed their headlights at Frost earlier that night because they also thought he was driving with his high beams on by mistake. Guilford apologized to the sergeant as Frost continued demanding to see his papers.
As Guilford dialed a number on his phone, Frost claimed that he suspected the kid was a member of a sovereign nation or militia movement. Fearing that Guilford was calling militiamen to the scene, Frost radioed for backup again before opening the teenager’s door and attempting to pull him out of the vehicle. Because Guilford still had his seatbelt on, Frost found himself unable to pull the kid out of the vehicle. Instead of unbuckling the seatbelt, Frost pulled out his Taser and ordered Guilford onto the ground.
As Guilford complied, he continued recording with his cellphone. Frost immediately grabbed the phone and threw it on the side of the road before attempting to handcuff Guilford. While lying on his stomach, Guilford continued to appeal to the sergeant until Frost shot him in the back with his Taser.
Guilford screamed in pain before rising off the ground and engaging Frost in a fistfight. According to Frost’s police report, the 17-year-old managed to knock the sergeant down and repeatedly punch him in the face. Instead of fighting back, Frost pulled out his service weapon and shot Guilford seven times in less than five seconds.
According to Guilford’s autopsy, Frost shot him at close range in the head, left armpit, right forearm, right wrist, belly, and twice in the chest. When officers checked his cellphone, they discovered that Guilford had been calling his girlfriend moments before his death. She later arrived at the crime scene with the wallet and driver’s license that Guilford had forgotten to take with him.
Eaton County Prosecuting Attorney Douglas Lloyd announced on Tuesday that his office is not seeking criminal charges against Frost even though both videos clearly show him escalating the situation instead of trying to diffuse it. Immediately after Lloyd’s announcement, Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich restored Frost to full patrol duties.
Guilford’s family responded in a written statement:
“Around 8:00pm on February 28, 2015, our 17 year old son and brother, Deven Guilford, was killed as a result of being shot seven times by Eaton County Deputy Sheriff Sgt. Jonathan Frost. At the time, Deven was merely traveling to his girlfriend’s house after playing basketball at his church. Deven was stopped by the officer because Deven flashed his bright lights to alert the oncoming officer that his brights appeared to be on. Notably, Deven was the third person that the officer had pulled over that night for flashing brights at the officer, who was driving a brand new police vehicle with high-intensity head-lights. During this traffic stop, it appears that Deven was puzzled and confused about why he was pulled over and why he was being confronted by the officer. It appears that the officer did not make any reasonable inquiry of Deven that could have helped ease the tensions of the situation.”
“The Eaton County Prosecutor, after reviewing the investigation by the Michigan State Police has determined to not bring any criminal charges against Sgt. Frost. Based on what we know at this time, our family believes that our son should not have been killed on the night in question.”