Delaware State Police Agrees to Pay $50,000 in Settlement for Violating Man's Constitutional Rights
In a significant development, the Delaware State Police has reached a settlement agreement, agreeing to pay $50,000 to Jonathan Guessford, 54, to resolve a federal lawsuit filed against them. Guessford claimed that troopers violated his constitutional rights by preventing him from warning motorists about an upcoming speed trap. The judgment in favor of Guessford was entered on Friday, marking a victory for the man who had accused the police of unlawfully obstructing his right to engage in peaceful protest.
The incident in question occurred on March 11, 2022, and was captured on cell phone videos taken by Guessford himself, as well as on the dashboard cameras in the vehicles of Corporal Stephen Douglas, Trooper Nicholas Gallo, and Master Corporal Raiford Box. These videos have been included as evidence in Guessford's complaint.
According to Guessford's lawsuit, he had been standing on the roadside along Route 13 north of Dover, holding up a small cardboard sign that read "Radar Ahead!" in an attempt to warn passing motorists about the speed trap. Troopers approached Guessford, with Douglas claiming that he was "disrupting traffic," while Gallo accused him of "jumping into traffic" based on a witness report.
Guessford vehemently denied these allegations and argued that he was legally parked on the side of the road, engaging in protected speech under the First Amendment. Despite his protests, Douglas twice lunged at Guessford in an attempt to prevent him from raising his sign. Gallo then forcefully ripped the sign from Guessford's hands and tore it up.
As Guessford drove away, he made an obscene hand gesture at the troopers, which was captured on dashcam video. In response, Douglas chased after him at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone, followed closely by Gallo and Box. Guessford was eventually pulled over, and Douglas questioned him about his behavior, asking, "Is there a reason why you were doing that?"
During the confrontation, Box threatened to charge Guessford with disorderly conduct and even suggested taking him into custody. He also made a disturbing comment about involving social services for Guessford's young son, who was present in the vehicle and witnessed the altercation. Box's dashcam audio recorded his subsequent phone call with his supervisor, Lt. Christopher Popp, wherein Box acknowledged that citing Guessford for his hand gesture was "pushing it."
In response, Lt. Popp promptly shut down the idea, telling Box, "You can't do that. That will be dropped." Box seemed to agree with his supervisor, indicating that he had already informed Douglas that the charge wouldn't hold up in court. However, Douglas callously remarked that even if the charge were dropped, it had at least inconvenienced Guessford.
The settlement amount of $50,000 indicates that the Delaware State Police has recognized their officers' wrongdoing and is taking responsibility for violating Guessford's constitutional rights. This case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of protecting individuals' First Amendment rights and the consequences that can be faced when law enforcement oversteps their authority.