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One good deed is another’s unlawful act. Didn’t Gottfried Leibniz say that once? Oh, never mind. Anyway, a Delaware man was doing what he thought was his duty by holding up a sign that said “Radar Ahead!.” But after a certain amount of harassment by the local police, things heated up.

According to reports, dashboard cameras, and cell phone video, Jonathan Guessford was sitting on the side of the road on Route 13 in Dover, Delaware, in his car. He had a sign warning motorists of the speed trap ahead. Police soon found out and tried to take the cardboard sign away from him.

Why did police think the speed trap sign was a crime?

Man with sign in the dark
Man with sign | STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP via Getty

Police said he was disrupting traffic, with one officer reporting Guessford was jumping into traffic, according to NBC News. There is no evidence of any of this. Guessford said they were liars. He was legally parked, and as far as he knew, the First Amendment protects his right to hold up a sign. 

Not aware of the Constitution, one of the officers grabbed the sign and tore it up. With that, Guessford drove away, but not before flipping off the officers. According to the dash camera in the police car, they hit speeds of over 100 mph going after Guessford. The speed limit was 55 mph.

Once to the side of the road, the police said they would cite him for disorderly conduct. They also said that they were taking him into custody. “We’re going to take you in. We’re going to tow the car, and we’ll call social services for the kid,” referring to Guessford’s son in the back seat. “It’s not a threat, it’s a promise,” the officer said. 

What was the citation for the man holding a speed trap sign?

People with signs
People with signs | Barbara Freeman/Getty

Ultimately, Guessford’s infraction was for “improper use of a hand signal.” They didn’t take him to jail. And they didn’t cite him for the other things they said they would charge him with. 

In a phone exchange with the police supervisor on duty, one of the officers said he knew the charge would be dropped, but at least Guessford would be “inconvenienced.” But the inconvenience became a lawsuit.

Were the man’s First Amendment rights violated?

Man with "Thank You" sign
Man with sign | Spencer Platt/Getty

Guessford filed a lawsuit charging the police with violating his constitutional rights when they kept him from warning motorists about the speed trap ahead. A judgment in his favor came about last week. It said police unlawfully kept him from engaging in peaceful protest by standing on the side of a road with a “Radar Ahead!” sign. 

The award was for $50,000, which the City of Dover will now pay to Guessford. Keep this tale in mind if you ever consider stopping on the side of a road to warn oncoming drivers about a speed trap ahead. It’s your First Amendment right to do so. 


What Is a Speed Trap, and Is It Illegal?