Civil Liberties

Cop Pulls Teen Over for Flashing High Beams, Tases Him, Eventually Shoots and Kills Him

Family is suing, saying everything the cop did from the moment he decided to stop their son was illegal.


family photo

Seventeen-year-old Deven Guilford was shot seven times by Sgt. Jonathan Frost of the Eaton County Sheriff's Office in Michigan this February. In June, Frost was cleared by a county prosecutor, who agreed with Frost's allegations that Guilford had attacked him after being Tased and that the officer feared for his life.

Guilford's encounter with Frost started on the road. Guilford flashed his high beams at Frost because, he told the officer after being pulled over, the police vehicle's headlights were blinding him. Frost insisted the high beams on his new SUV weren't on, and further, that a state law requiring drivers "use a distribution of light or composite beam so aimed that the glaring rays are not projected into the eyes of the oncoming driver" applied to Guilford flashing his high beams at Frost.

Frost asked Guilford for his driver's license at least six times before Guilford admitted he didn't have it. Initially, Guilford challenged Frost's authority to pull him over in what reads a lot like a road rage incident where the raging driver is an agent of the state. At some point, Guilford used his cellphone to call his girlfriend, whose car he was driving and at whose house he left his wallet and keys.

That's when things got ugly. Frost said he had received a bulletin about the threat the sovereign citizens' and militia movement posed to police officers. This was around the time the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) distributed a bulletin on "sovereign citizen extremists" to local law enforcement. Since then, there has not been a statistically significant rise in police fatalities.

This summer saw a string of police killings, but by then the "Black Lives Matter" police reform movement had replaced sovereign citizens as the boogeyman police apologists point to as evidence of a "war on cops." But before Black Lives Matter entered mainstream political discussion, the boogeyman role was filled by sovereign citizens. While cops find help on the right in pushing Black Lives Matter and the broader police reform movement as an enemy of police and an example of the "war on cops," when the sovereign citizens movement filled that role, cops got help from the left.

There were no known attacks on police officers in Michigan in 2015 perpetrated by alleged members of the sovereign citizen and militia movement. Yet Frost and countless other officers in Michigan and around the country got the same information, via DHS, warning of the threat to their lives. How much did it contribute to the climate of fear in which Frost shot and killed an unarmed seventeen year old for the crime of disagreeing with him?

This was not Frost's first encounter over his new SUV's high beams. According to the family's lawsuit, Frost had previously pulled over two other people who did the same thing as Guilford—flashed their high beams at him because his head lights were so bright. Neither of them were cited. But neither did they appear to challenge Frost's authority. Guilford did.

According to the report clearing Frost, Guilford's father and girlfriend said he focused on YouTube videos of police encounters. The report claimed the focus was "recent, sudden, out of the ordinary and may have influenced Deven in this traffic stop." That sounds like Guilford knew what his rights were and didn't want to permit Frost to trample that.

Frost did engage his body camera before exiting the vehicle to approach Guilford, so much of the encounter was caught on tape, though not the alleged assault nor the shooting. Guilford also tried to use his cellphone to record the interaction, but Frost eventually stopped that.

The Guilford family's lawsuit does not address the alleged assault of Frost. Instead, it argues the initial traffic stop and everything up to and after the alleged assault was an illegal action by Frost. They insist the prosecutor who cleared Frost interpreted the high beam law incorrectly, and that flashing your high beams at another driver is not against Michigan law. The family is seeking a jury trial.

Watch body cam incident of the video below: