Family of slain teen Deven Guilford sues Michigan cop for roadside shooting

Family of Teen Shot Dead by Cop During Traffic Stop Sues Michigan Officer
Family of Teen Shot Dead by Cop During Traffic Stop Sues Michigan Officer

The family of a Michigan teenager shot to death by a police officer filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the cop this week, saying he repeatedly violated the boy's civil rights during a traffic stop that ended with the victim shot seven times in a roadside snowbank.

The lawsuit follows a June decision by local prosecutors not to charge Sgt. Jonathan Frost of the Eaton County Sheriff's Office for the Feb. 28 killing of 17-year-old Deven Guilford following a confrontation that was partly captured by the officer's body camera and the boy's cell phone.

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Frost said Guilford attacked him, knocking him on his back and punching him in the face before he shot the boy. The fight itself was not caught on video. But Eaton County Prosecuting Attorney Douglas Lloyd reviewed other evidence, including wounds on Frost's face, and agreed with the officer's account, calling Guilford the aggressor and concluding that Frost acted in self-defense.

The boy's parents said they were confused and angered by that decision, claiming their son had never been in a fight before. Their lawsuit, they said, was driven by "outrage at the huge miscarriage of justice done to our son."

The lawsuit accuses Frost of violating Guilford's constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The lawsuit also accused Frost's department, the Eaton County Sheriff's Office, of failing to properly train its officers on how to conduct traffic stops and use force on suspects.

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The family's lawyers acknowledged in an interview with MSNBC that Guilford should have complied with Frost's instructions, but said it was Frost who escalated the situation unnecessarily.

The lawyers have described the killing as another chapter in the national debate over the use of deadly force by police.

"Deven's tragic and totally unnecessary death represents a disturbing trend of demanding 100 percent compliance with police authority, coupled with zero tolerance of risk of harm to police officers," lawyer Cynthia Heenan said in a statement. "Whatever happened to protect and serve?"

Lloyd declined to comment on the lawsuit, referring NBC News to his June report on the investigation, which said the traffic stop and attempted arrest of Guilford were proper.

Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich issued a statement Friday saying that an internal review determined that Frost hadn't broken any departmental regulations, orders or training. He said he stood by those determinations, but had reviewed training programs and placed greater emphasis on "defensive tactics."

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Guilford, a high school junior, was driving to his girlfriend's house after a Saturday night basketball game at a nearby church when he flashed his high beams at a police SUV driven by Frost, according to accounts provided by Guilford's family and police.

The boy told Frost he had flashed his lights because the officer's headlights appeared to be on high. Frost, driving a brand new patrol car, said his high beams were not on, and asked Guilford for his license and registration, according to Lloyd's report. Guilford repeatedly refused. It turned out that he had left his wallet at his girlfriend's.

Frost tried to pull Guilford out of the car, and when the boy resisted, the officer pulled out his Taser, according to the lawsuit and Lloyd's report. Frost ordered Guilford to the ground, and attempted to handcuff him. Soon after, Frost shot Guilford with his Taser, which didn't fully work. Guilford stood up.

In the ensuing fight, Frost's body cam cut out and Guilford's cell phone was left on the ground, recording only audio, according to Lloyd's report.

Seconds later, Frost opened fire.

The entire incident lasted about five minutes.

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Originally published