Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Authoritarian Personality - No Charges For Cop Who Shot Unarmed Teen...Again

17 year-old Deven Guilford killed in a routine traffic stop
When unarmed 17 year-old driver Deven Guilford (pictured left) flashed his brights at an oncoming vehicle near Grand Ledge, Michigan on a cold February evening earlier this year, he had no idea he'd just put his life in danger.

The headlights of the vehicle coming towards him were bright enough to make it look like the driver had left the brights on and the glare was bothering Guilford - so like any one of us has done on occasion, he flashed his brights at the vehicle in the universal signal for "please turn your brights off."

Unfortunately for Guilford, the vehicle he flashed was a Ford Explorer driven by Eton County Sheriff's Sgt. Jonathan Frost, an eight-year veteran who didn't take too kindly to someone flashing their brights at him.

Frost pulled Guilford over and demanded to see the teenager's license; which Guilford defiantly refused to show the officer, sparking a verbal confrontation that escalated as Frost began yelling into the window for the protesting teen to exit the car; which he eventually did after Frost makes an unsuccessful attempt to physically pull the teen out of the vehicle.

In the video the teen does seem a little mouthy to the officer, but no more than any other 17 year-old teenage American boy would be; and he's only asking Frost why he's being treated so roughly since he's unarmed and was honestly bothered by the brightness of Frost's headlights.

Guilford on the ground
Once he's on the ground face down next to his car (as illustrated by the crime scene depiction left), Frost kicks the teen's cell phone away and that sets the teen off to the point that Frost then shoots Guilford with a taser and the teen cries out in pain as the electricity shoots into his body.

The audio recorded by the officer's body cam clearly reveals the sound of what looks like the terrified teen trying to run away and there's some kind of brief scuffle; but it's not long before seven shots from Frost's gun ring out followed by a chilling scream - then silence punctuated by passing vehicles.

Unarmed African-American motorists Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati and Sandra Bland in Texas probably didn't imagine their lives were in danger after being pulled over by police for minor traffic violations either.

Both of those two high-profile cases stemmed from traffic stops prompted by issues so minor (failure to signal a lane change and missing license plate on the front of the car) that the stops themselves, while legal on the part of the officers, are highly questionable; like Frost stopping the kid for flashing his brights.

But these cases also illustrate another issue; how the emotions of police officers can quickly escalate from a professional demeanor to explosive rage when citizens ask perfectly reasonable and legal questions about why they are being stopped.

Emotional reactions that are in many cases, totally disproportionate to the reasoning behind the initial stop.

Antoinette DiIorio, 61, body slammed by Clark, NJ cop
Like the incident that took place last Friday when 61 year-old grandmother Antoinette DiIorio (pictured left) had her front teeth knocked out and suffered multiple fractures after she was picked up and body slammed by a Clark, New Jersey police officer after she tried to intervene when the officer tried to pull her son Fortunato Riga out of the car after he ran a stop sign.

"All of a sudden he grabbed my mother-in-law by the arm, lifted her off her feet in mid-air and slammed her on the ground. All you saw was blood pouring out of her face". Said the driver's fiance Crystal Palmieri," according to a quote from the BTNOMB Website.

That case was discussed during a segment of 'The Brian Lehrer Show' on WNYC earlier this morning, Seton Hall law professor Kip Cornwell was the guest for a really insightful discussion about some of the things that you can, and cannot do by law when stopped by a police officer in NJ.

One of the most interesting listener calls came from a woman who identified the problems that stem from what she called the 'Authoritarian Personality' that police officers assume which often has the effect of ratcheting up confrontations with civilians during traffic stops over relatively minor issues.

If you watch the video of either Sandra Bland's police stop, or Samuel Dubose's traffic stop, the initial demeanor and tone of the officers as they first approach the vehicle seems professional and even courteous - but it almost seems as if they are subtly pushing to elevate the situation.

Particularly with the Bland stop in Texas where Trooper Brian Encinia seems like he's intentionally trying to push her buttons.

Iconic conservative thinker Elisabeth Hasselback, center
Like when he tells her "you seem aggravated", or instructs her to put out her cigarette in her own car.

Fox News' 'Fox and Friends' co-host Elisabeth Hasselback (pictured left) had the gall to suggest that Trooper Encinia was justified in telling Sandra Bland to put out her cigarette as it could have potentially been used as a weapon.

(That asinine statement and Hasselback's general conservative idiocy is another blog entirely; but I digress...)

These are experienced law enforcement professionals with badges and guns who already have compliant citizens stopped and in control; the officers in both the Bland and the Dubose traffic stops clearly understand that the people sitting in the vehicle (who willingly pulled over when requested to do so) are not menacing, violent, disrespectful or out of control.

In such encounters, given the training and authority police officers receive, aren't they the ones who should be held to the higher standard of behavior? Why escalate it?

In some cases it almost seems as if the questionable traffic stop itself is nothing more than an excuse to see if the situation CAN be escalated; which federal investigators in Ferguson, Missouri found WAS the case as officers habitually issued tickets, citations and arrests (to mostly black residents) for relatively minor infractions to bring revenue into the municipal coffers.

In the case of Sgt. Jonathan Frost, he even admits to Deven Guilford that the headlights on his Ford Bronco are new and overly bright and that at least two other drivers that same night also flashed their lights at him, mistakenly thinking he had his brights on too - yet he still pulled the teenager over?

Sgt Jonathan Frost - cleared of all charges
Take a few minutes to watch the video and listen closely to the audio of Sgt. Frost's (pictured left) traffic stop of Devon Guilford; the whole thing only lasts just over five minutes.

If you're squeamish don't worry, the incident takes place at night and Sgt. Frost's body camera falls off after he tasers Guilford so you can't actually see the poor teen get shot; but you can hear it, which is chilling enough.

It's not "bloody" or anything, but it's not easy to listen to.

This version is split screen, matching up the footage that the teenager began taking from his cell phone with the video footage taken from Sgt. Frost's body cam.

Guilford's death did not prompt anywhere near as much national or global media attention at the time of the incident back in February; possibly because of the delay before the actual footage of the cell phone and Frost's body cam was finally made public.

But after Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd ruled on June 16th that Sgt. Frost's actions were lawful and no charges would be filed against him for firing seven shots at the unarmed teenager, the story is gaining huge traction on social media.

That attention is clearly being boosted by the controversy over the deaths of Samuel Dubose and Sandra Bland.   

Samuel Dubose's "Threatening" bottle of air freshener
By the way a quick update:

When the initial news reports about the deadly July 19th shooting of unarmed motorist Samuel Dubose by former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing first surfaced, UC officials were quick to report that Dubose had produced a liquor bottle (pictured left) during the traffic stop.

As if somehow the mere presence of a liquor bottle inside a vehicle (after Tensing pulled Dubose over for a missing license plate on the front of the car) was in itself, threatening the officer's life - or an insinuation that Dubose was drunk and violent.

The now widely-seen body-cam video of the incident clearly showed Dubose calmly pick up a gin bottle and hand it to Tensing; he didn't wave it around or threaten the former-officer with it.

He complied with Tensing's question about what the bottle was doing on the floor of the vehicle.

As reported by The Guardian on Monday, after careful labratory analysis of the contents of the gin bottle, "The Hamilton County coroner, Dr Lakshmi Sammarco, said in a statement that lab analysis found compounds consistent with those commonly found in air fresheners or perfumes."

It was fragrance in the bottle. Which might constitute a "weapon" in Elisabeth Hasselback's view, I don't know, but apparently Dubose's having a bottle of fragrance in his car and having no plates on the front bumper of his car was sufficient cause for a police officer to "fear for his life" and shoot him in the head.

It's absurd.

Just as absurd as Sgt. Jonathan Frost tasering and then shooting and killing an unarmed 17 year-old teenager because he'd flashed his brights at him; and facing no consequences for his actions.

By the way, Sgt. Frost is back on duty with the Eaton County Sheriff's Department; God help the next person who has the misfortune to run afoul of his 'Authoritarian Personality'.

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