There's a fresh coat of paint on the walls, new carpet on the floor — but nothing else inside the room where Deven Guilford slept has been touched.
One year after the unarmed 17-year-old was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop, his bedroom is a memorial in the Guilford home.
The last year has been a struggle, said his mother, Becky Guilford.
"What year?" she said, sitting at her kitchen table a few weeks before the family plans to attend a second "Justice For Deven" rally at the State Capitol on Feb. 27, one day before the one-year anniversary of his death. "It just hasn't been."
The pain of losing her son is harder to bear now, she said. It's as raw as it's ever been.
That rawness is still evident throughout the community.
Some residents have rallied around the Guilford family, others around the sheriff's department.
People have argued, face to face and on social media, about the traffic stop and about Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd's decision not to charge the police officer who killed him.
The video-taped exchange between Guilford and Sgt. Jonathan Frost, who stopped him last Feb. 28 on a rural road in Roxand Township, has, in many ways, become a cautionary tale for parents, prompting them to talk with their own teenagers about the potential dangers of failing to comply with police during a traffic stop.
Frost stopped Guilford for flashing his high beams. They argued. Less than six minutes later Guilford was dead, shot seven times by Frost.
If there’s any area of agreement, it’s this: The county hasn't healed.
Many question when it will.
“I have come to accept that this is going to be one of those issues that I don’t think will be resolved on either side of the pendulum,” said Larry Schrauger, pastor at Oneida Gospel Church in Grand Ledge. “There isn’t going to be a resolution to the hurt in people’s souls.”
So close to home
On a weekday morning in mid-February, Rob Piercefield sits at a corner table in Swede’s Restaurant, a white apron covering his button-down shirt and a baseball cap atop his head.
Swede’s in one of only a few eateries in Mulliken, a village of fewer than 600 people, and Piercefield, the village president, has owned it for more than 30 years.
He’s at the epicenter of the shooting’s aftermath. The eatery is located on M-43, just minutes from where Guilford was killed. It's less than a mile from the home the teenager grew up in.
Guilford's death is still an incredibly difficult topic for most people to talk about, Piercefield said, yet nearly everyone has an opinion about it.
“Something happened that made it go completely wrong," Piercefield said. "I don’t know what it was.”
Police officers frequent the restaurant. Piercefield knows several but admits he’s never met Frost.
“Ninety-nine, point nine percent of them are wonderful people,” he said. “I’ve got deputies that come in here, and I like every single one of them, and I absolutely appreciate how dangerous the job is.”
And yet, Piercefield's stake in the tragedy is personal.
He went to school with Deven’s father, Brian.
The teenager often came into Swede’s. Piercefield greeted him the same way every time they met.
“Hey Deven, how’s the best kid in town doing?” he’d say.
“I’ll tell you why,” Piercefield said. “Because he never gave me an ounce of trouble.”
He attended the funeral service, shedding tears with Deven’s family. Brian and Becky Guilford are good parents, caring community members, Piercefield said.
“My number one concern is helping Brian and Becky heal,” Piercefield said. “That has to be the way it is. They’re a part of our community. They’re part of our family.”
Seeing both sides
“Raw, angry and heartbreaking," said Schrauger, of the aftermath a year later.
Oneida Gospel Church is between Portland and Grand Ledge. The 120-member congregation includes people on both sides of the issue.
Any time the shooting comes up, I see a heavy heartbrokenness come over people’s faces,” he said.
Schrauger sees both perspectives — a teenager who questioned authority and an officer who may have acted rashly, he said.
“My heart breaks for the Guilford family, absolutely,” he said. “Their boy is gone. My heart breaks for the officer. He has to live with what happened. Both ends, it’s painful. I’ve watched the video. I’ve read the transcript.”
Schrauger said his concern is for the community’s present and future.
“Our community is in the middle of this tension, and one thing that I’m grateful for is that there’s been no rioting or civil unrest,” he said.
Business owner and father Jim Cicorelli, who lives in Charlotte, said the impact isn’t as evident to him.
“There wasn't much talk about it locally,” he said. “I’m sure Grand Ledge is a lot different.”
Cicorelli agrees with Lloyd’s decision not to charge Frost.
“My first thoughts were, ‘Why was the child challenging the situation? And unfortunately it escalated and I think both sides went too far,” he said.
The shooting wasn’t black and white, Cicorelli said.
“This is probably the one incident where there’s gray area. If I’m the officer, why didn’t he wait for help? This incident, it’s a shame it escalated to where it did. There was no reason for it.”
Since his announcement in June that Frost would face no charges, Lloyd has spent a great deal of time explaining his role in the county's criminal justice system.
He doesn’t investigate crimes, the police do, Lloyd said. His job is to review police investigations, determine if a crime was committed and weigh whether prosecutors can get a jury to agree.
Some have asked why he didn’t charge Frost and let a jury decide his guilt.
“I have to have the facts,” Lloyd said. “That would be unfair to any defendant out there, to just go ‘Well, we'll see what a jury decides.’”
Still, his decision prompted emails from people who are angry with his decision.
At first, Lloyd's staff ignored them, he said. But now they respond, asking the sender if they have information not previously reviewed by his office. They don’t get responses, he said.
The way they handle their jobs — the hundreds of cases they're reviewed since Guilford’s death — hasn’t changed.
“We know what our responsibility is and we still do it,” Lloyd said.
Talks at home
Impact Community Church is on Bridge Street in downtown Grand Ledge.
Geographically, its pastor, Michael “Tiny” Moore, preaches at the heart of the controversy.
But the Delta Township resident is also the parent of two teenage boys.
Moore took two things away from the incident.
“You clearly feel like Deven was pushing buttons, and, on the other side, you feel like it was an overreaction on the part of the officer. He got so aggressive.”
That’s why he asked his boys to watch the video with him. If a police officer approaches, you don’t argue and don’t challenge them, Moore told his sons, who are 17 and 19 years old.
“I said, ‘I don’t know who’s at fault here, but I hope you learn from this that you need to have respect for the law.'”
Bill Jones, 39, of Charlotte, is the father of three boys, ages 8 to 15.
The shooting, he said, "has pulled people apart. There are so many friends of mine that work for Eaton County or the Charlotte Police Department. It’s not that I don’t support our police, but I don’t think a slap on the wrist covers this.”
The state employee grew up in the county seat. He feels strongly Frost should have waited for backup rather than pulled Deven Guilford from the car he was driving.
“I don’t see any of that as necessary,” Jones said. “I feel that justice has not been done. I feel that family hasn’t been treated fairly.”
But Jones knows there are plenty of people who don’t agree with him. And some of them are friends.
“We’ve just kind of gotten to the point where we agree to disagree,” he said.
“I look at my 15-year-old and see he’s just finishing up with driver’s training,” Jones said. “He’s the first person I thought of. If that had happened to him, I don’t know what I would do.”
Nowhere are the lines of community division over Deven's death more clearly drawn than on social media.
Administrators of several Facebook community groups throughout the county stopped allowing discussion about the shooting months ago.
But John Welch, 43, said residents should discuss the issue even if that discussion gets heated.
He's the administrator of the Facebook group “Agree or disagree Charlotte, Michigan” and allows posts about the shooting, even if they’re deemed controversial by some of the group's members.
“I think it’s something that needs to be talked about,” Welch said. “I understand it’s a passionate subject. Some people want to push it to the side, and I don’t understand it, but a lot of people have a personal stake in it.”
State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, a former Eaton County sheriff, said he hasn’t judged Frost’s actions because he wasn't involved in the investigation.
But based on conversations he’s had with residents, the shooting has called into question how trustworthy residents feel the sheriff’s office is.
It’s an assertion Sheriff Tom Reich strongly disagrees with.
“We have no problems at all with the community,” he said. “As a matter of fact, there’s probably more support now in the community than there ever has been.”
But there was a months-long stretch last year when Reich and others in the department received threatening phone calls and emails, he said, adding that most came from outside the area.
There have been peaceful protests outside the department’s building in Charlotte, Reich said, and even letters, calls and emails supporting his department.
And even though it’s something taught at police academies, Reich said the shooting resulted in a heightened sense of awareness among deputies as to how quickly a routine traffic stop can turn violent.
“It drives the reality to another level,” he said.
The filing deadline to run for Eaton County Sheriff is April 19, and Reich, a Democrat, told the State Journal last month he plans to seek re-election.
Guilford’s death is likely to be a topic of campaign discussions. So far two county residents — Johnny Lopez of Delta Township and Joe Jager of Charlotte, whom Jones has endorsed — have filed as Republicans to run against Reich in the November election.
“I don't think it's something that's going to go away soon,” Rick Jones said. “There has not been a healing of the community.”
For the Guilford family, normal has become hard to define.
"Some days I don't function," Becky said.
In those moments, she finds solace sitting on the couch in a quiet house petting her dog and thinking about what she loved about her youngest son.
"People wonder how we're doing," Brian Guilford said. "I think we're doing good for the circumstances. I think there are some days that are better but, I'm telling you, I swear there's other days that are absolutely worse than the beginning."
Deven's older brothers, Aaron and Ryan, both have young children.
"I don't really talk about it around my kids really," Aaron said. "It brings a lot to the surface."
Brian has talked publicly about his son's death as often as he can. He's attended several county Board of Commissioner meetings in the last few months, taking to the podium each time, pleading his family's case to officials.
Brian maintains that his son was scared and confused — in addition to being unarmed — when Frost pulled him over and he says questions remain about what happened in the seconds before he died, which was not captured on video.
"I probably talk about it more than anyone," he said. "Every time I get a chance to, I defend Deven. I feel a huge obligation to defend who he was and to stand up for what he was."
The family's federal civil lawsuit, filed against the county and Frost in October, is pending.
Guilford's parents and siblings are prepared to sit in a courtroom to support him.
For Brian, healing will come with justice for Deven, he said.