CRIME
10/15/2015 09:02 pm ET | Updated Oct 16, 2015

An Unarmed Teen Flashed His Brights At A Cop And Ended Up Dead

The family of Deven Guilford, 17, filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Justice for Deven Guilford
The family of Deven Guilford, a 17-year-old shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop in Western Michigan, is suing the officer and the local county government.

The family of an unarmed teenager shot dead by a sheriff's deputy during a Michigan traffic stop in February has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit alleging that the officer's "entire course of action was illegal."

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday against Eaton County Sheriff's Sgt. Jonathan Frost and the county, says the officer was driving a new patrol car on Feb. 28 that had "improperly bright or misaimed headlights, even on low beams." Deven Guilford, 17, who had been driving to his girlfriend's house after playing basketball at his church, was one of three drivers to flash their brights at the officer to get him to dim his lights, the suit says. Frost stopped all three drivers.

Five minutes after Guilford was pulled over, the lawsuit says, the teen lay dead in the snow on the side of the road, struck by seven bullets. The county prosecutor said the teen fought with the deputy and was killed in "justifiable self-defense." 

Guilford's parents said in a statement that video taken by the deputy's body camera turned their "confusion" to "outrage."

"We always had great respect for law enforcement and the men and women who chose that profession in the past," Brian and Becky Guilford said. "But we must say that belief has been shaken to the core by the actions of Frost and refusal of the Eaton County Prosecutor to hold Frost accountable. The failed criminal justice system forces us to seek other avenues for some kind of JUSTICE FOR DEVEN."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for wrongful death and emotional and financial damages. 

Guilford's death is the latest in a string of police killings involving allegations of excessive force that have ignited a national debate about police accountability. The best-known cases, including Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland, have involved African-Americans and accusations of racial discrimination.

Guilford and Frost are white.

The Eaton County prosecutor declined to bring criminal charges against Frost in June, releasing photographs that he said showed injuries the officer sustained during a struggle with Guilford. The prosecutor also noted that Guilford's body showed the presence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Guilford "did not cooperate or comply with Sgt. Frost's eight requests for a driver's license and vehicle paperwork," the prosecutor's press release at the time said. After Frost decided to arrest Guilford for failure to show a license, the teen struggled with the officer for 10 to 15 seconds and provoked the deadly force, the prosecutor said.

An internal investigation also cleared Frost and recommended the sheriff's department "re-emphasize" training, according to local Newschannel 3 WWMT.

Guilford's family says in the lawsuit that Guilford did nothing wrong in flashing his high-beams at the officer. Frost's "entire course of action was illegal and in violation of Deven's constitutional rights," the suit says. 

The lawsuit says Guilford asked for the officer's badge number and questioned why he was being stopped -- things within his rights to demand. Frost, the suit says, escalated the exchange at every stage and ultimately used excessive force. 

CORRECTION: This article has been edited to note that the prosecutor's press release describes a struggle of 10 to 15 seconds, not 10 to 15 minutes.

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