By Randall Chase
Delaware State Police have agreed to pay $50,000 to resolve a federal lawsuit filed by a man who said troopers violated his constitutional rights by preventing him from warning motorists about a speed trap.
A judgment was entered Friday in favor of Jonathan Guessford, 54, who said in the lawsuit that police unlawfully prevented him from engaging in peaceful protest by standing on the roadside and holding up a small cardboard sign reading “Radar Ahead!”
After Guessford raised a middle finger at troopers while driving away from an initial encounter, he was stopped and cited for “improper use of a hand signal.” The charge was later dropped.
The episode on March 11, 2022, was captured on cell phone videos taken by Guessford and included in his complaint, as well as on dashboard cameras in the vehicles of Corporal Stephen Douglas, Trooper Nicholas Gallo and Master Corporal Raiford Box.
Police dashcam audio captures the troopers laughing and giggling at the notion of citing Guessford for using an improper hand turn signal because of the obscene gesture. “He wasn’t making a turn,” Douglas says.
The cell phone video shows troopers approaching Guessford, who was standing in a grassy area next to the shoulder of Route 13 north of Dover. Douglas told Guessford that he was “disrupting traffic,” while Gallo, based on a witness report, said Guessford was “jumping into 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.
Dascham video shows Douglas twice lunging at Guessford to prevent him from raising his sign. Gallo then ripped it from his hands and tore it up.
“Could you stop playing in traffic now?” Gallo sarcastically asked Guessford.
As Guessford drove away, he made an obscene hand gesture at the troopers. Dashcam video shows Douglas racing after him at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour (160 kilometers per hour) in a 55 mph zone, followed closely by Gallo and Box.
“Is there a reason why you were doing that?” Douglas asked Guessford after he pulled him over.
Box told Guessford he was engaging in “disorderly conduct” and opened the front passenger door of Guessford’s vehicle.
“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.’”
Douglas is heard saying that even if the charge would be dropped, it at least “inconvenienced” Guessford.