In order to end a federal lawsuit brought by a man who claimed troopers violated his constitutional rights by barring him from alerting drivers to a speed trap, the Delaware State Police have agreed to pay $50,000.
On Friday, a decision was made in favour of 54-year-old Jonathan Guessford, who claimed that police had improperly stopped him from participating in a peaceful demonstration by standing by the roadside and putting up a small cardboard sign that stated, “Radar Ahead!”
Guessford was pulled over and given a citation for “improper use of a hand signal” after he raised his middle finger at troopers as he drove away from a first encounter. Later, the accusation was abandoned.
The incident on March 11, 2022, was seen on dashboard cameras in the cars of Corporal Stephen Douglas, Trooper Nicholas Gallo, and Master Corporal Raiford Box as well as on mobile phone recordings shot by Guessford and included in his complaint.
The troopers can be heard grinning and laughing on the police dashcam as they discuss the possibility of penalising Guessford for employing an improper hand turn signal due to the offensive gesture. “He wasn’t making a turn,” says Douglas.
In the video taken with a cell phone, troopers can be seen approaching Guessford, who was standing in a grassy area near to Route 13’s shoulder north of Dover. While Gallo claimed, based on a witness account, that Guessford was “jumping into traffic,” Douglas informed Guessford that he was “disrupting traffic.”
“You are a liar,” Guessford told Gallo.
“I’m on the side of the road, legally parked, with a sign which is protected by the First Amendment,” he told troopers.
Douglas is seen on the Dascham video lunging at Guessford twice to stop him from raising his sign. Then Gallo tore it up by ripping it out of his hands.
“Could you stop playing in traffic now?” Gallo sarcastically asked Guessford.
Guessford made a lewd hand motion towards the troopers as he drove off. On the dashcam video, Douglas can be seen chasing after him at over 100 mph (160 km/h) in a 55 mph zone, closely pursued by Gallo and Box.
“Is there a reason why you were doing that?” Douglas asked Guessford after he pulled him over.
Guessford was accused of “disorderly conduct” by Box, who then unlocked the front passenger door of his car.
“Take it to court. That’s what I want you to do,” Box replied after Guessford told troopers he was going to take legal action. Box also threatened to charge Guessford with resisting arrest.
“We’re going to take you in. We’re going to tow the car, and we’ll call social services for the kid,” Box said, referring to Guessford’s young son, who was with Guessford and witnessed his profanity-laden tirade against the officers. “It’s not a threat, it’s a promise,” Box added.
Box’s dashcam audio also captures his subsequent phone call with a supervisor, Lt. Christopher Popp, in which Box acknowledges that citing Guessford for his hand gesture is “pushing it.”
“You can’t do that,” Popp tells Box. “That will be dropped.”
“Yeah, it’s gonna get dropped,” Box replies. “I told (Douglas) it’s definitely going to get thrown out. … I said, ‘Ah, that’s not really going to fly, buddy.’”
Even if the accusation were withdrawn, Douglas is heard saying, it at least “inconvenienced” Guessford.