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Expert Opinions Sufficient to Dispute Material Facts for Denial of Summary Judgment

By David Reutter

A Michigan federal district court held that an Eaton County, Michigan Sheriff's sergeant had "arguable probable cause" to stop and detain a motorist for flashing his high beams at him as they passed. The court also held the officer had reasonable grounds to arrest the motorist when he could not present a driver's license. The court, however, denied summary judgment on claims involving excessive force by use of his taser and deadly force due to the existence of "purely factual disputes."

Deven Guilford's' family filed a civil suit against Sgt. Jonathan Frost, alleging Fourth Amendment violations that resulted in the death of their 17-year-old son. On February 28, 2015, at about 8:20 p.m., Frost stopped Guilford near Mulliken, Michigan, for flashing his high beams at him despite his admission that he had been flashed several times already because his low beams were unusually bright. Guilford refused to show his license, insurance, and registration because he believed the stop was unlawful. Guilford recorded much of the encounter on his cell phone, and Frost recorded much of it on his body cam.

The encounter escalated as Frost pulled Guilford from his car and ordered him to lie on his belly. Guilford began to comply, but he refused to put his cell phone away. Frost punched the phone out of his hand, jumped on Guilford's back, tased him with a dart, and ended up fatally shooting Guilford's seven times in 3.5 seconds.

The district court granted summary judgment in claim related to the stop and detention because Frost had "arguable probable cause" to make traffic stop and the subsequent attempted arrest with minimal force. The court went on to pronounce that Mich. Comp. Laws §257.700(b) is ambiguous. He clarified that flashing one's high beams at an on-coming vehicle does not violate the law, so Frost did not have probable cause to make a traffic stop, but because that position was not well established, and Frost reasonably believed the law gave him probable cause to stop Guilford, qualified immunity did attach.

Qualified immunity did not apply to Frost's use of his taser or deadly force where Guilford presented no threat while lying on the ground. His crime was simply flashing his high beams to alert a passing motorist that his high beams appeared to be on: and he was not resisting arrest because four seconds to comply to Frost's order to cuff up was not adequate time to comply. Well established law held that even 30 seconds to comply was inadequate. Where Guilford had established a pattern of compliances, his passive non-compliance did not justify even the use of pepper spray, let alone a taser.

Guilford's experts genuinely disputed Frost's factual assertions. Frost asserted that Guilford got up after being tased and somehow wrestled him to the ground. He then straddled Frost and pummeled him to almost unconsciousness. Frost had to pull his gun and shoot up at Guilford to save his life.

The evidence showed Frost had stomped Guilford so hard that he left a boot print on Guilford's torso. His injuries were also minimal, not signs of being pummeled, and Guilford's hands showed no signs of injuries. Most telling were the gunshot wounds that showed Frost's shots were downward, not up. And one shot was made execution style. The judge concluded that he "does not see any good faith basis for an appeal on this claim because purely factual disputes preclude summary judgment."

See: Guilford v. Frost, No: 1:15-cv-1053, (U.S.D.C., W.D. Mich., August 18, 2017)

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Related legal case

Guilford v. Frost, No: 1:15-cv-1053



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