A $70,000 check and a personal apology from Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich have done little to soothe Todd Brenizer’s guilt over the 2015 shooting death of 17-year-old Deven Guilford.
“I know I am not the one who killed Deven, but at the same time I just wish I could have made a difference sooner,” the 29-year-old Potterville resident said last week.
Brenizer was arrested and assaulted by Eaton County Sheriff Deputy Greg Brown in June 2014. A video of the arrest, made on his cell phone, showed aggressive and unwarranted actions by the deputy, who later resigned. Eight months later, Sgt. Jonathan Frost from the same department shot an unarmed Guilford seven times.
“The minute I heard of the situation with Deven being murdered, it hit me in my heart. It really affected me.” said Brenizer, speaking publicly for the first time since last April, when City Pulse released the video of his false arrest and assault.
It’s the ”what ifs” that plagued him, he said.
“What if I had gotten this video out already? What if I had gone public immediately instead of me taking this to an attorney and being told to hold off on speaking on it? What if I would have said something? Could it have made a difference? Would Deven still be here? Would there a difference in the policing of the community? Could I have changed that?
“It’s affected me just to think of Deven’s family and the loss they’ve had, and the fact that part of me feels somewhat responsible.”
Still, speaking publicly has been a struggle, he said.
“It was kind of an inner battle as to whether or not I should just leave this alone and let be part of the past for me, or if I should stand up and be a voice for whoever, even if it be for the Guilfords, or for Deven for that matter,” he said. “ I feel like it’s almost my responsibility to step up and be a voice for them — for him. My voice may not be that loud. It may not be heard. I feel like I need to no longer hide in the shadows. I want to help our community.”
He sees parallels between his attack and arrest and that of the teenager months later. Both were argumentative with the officer. Both were faced with sudden and violent removal from their vehicles. But Brenizer gave up; Guilford struggled.
Both cases have become fault lines in a contentious battle between incumbent Sheriff Tom Reich and GOP challenger Fred McPhail. McPhail, a captain at the time of the Brenizer incident, investigated it. He said that after he handed that investigation to Reich he was cut out of the rest of the process.
Reich took immediate action to remove Brown from the force. The deputy resigned in 2014 just before his hearing. Had he stayed and undergone the hearing, Reich said, “I would have fired him.”
Brenizer said he is supporting McPhail in the sheriff’s race.
Despite Brown's resignation, the Lenawee County Sheriff’s Department hired him. He is being sued there for allegedly violating the civil rights of two residents of Raisin Township.
Brenizer never had to file a civil lawsuit; the county’s insurer negotiated a $70,000 settlement in which the county did not admit responsibility. In exchange, Brenizer released the county and Brown from any liability arising from the incident.
The incident did not sour his perspective on law enforcement completely he said.
“I am not anti-law,” he said. “I am not anti-police. I am anti-police corruption. I am anti-rights’ being violated. A officer is here to uphold the law, not abuse it.”
That doesn’t stop him from wanting to pull over every time there is a police officer following him on the road, he said.
“It’s an underlying subconscious fear that it can happen again,” he said.
But it’s not just Brenizer who is stuck with the residual of a traffic stop gone terribly wrong.
“But now at this point in time, one of the lessons I have learned is, well am I going to teach my kids that officers are friendly or am I going to teach them to still be reluctant to even have conversations with law enforcement?” he said. “It’s a conflicting belief with me, because I support law enforcement but at the same time I am fearful for my children’s safety if they ever have to get dealt with in Eaton County at this point in time.”