Disturbing video surfaces of Davontae Sanford being forcefully subdued by prison guards at the age of 16

Yesterday the folks at the Huffington Post released a gut-wrenching expose on the treatment of kids sentenced to adult prison in Michigan. The report, titled Cruel and All-Too-Usual, begins with a graphic video accompanied by the following warning.

Warning: The following video, obtained by The Huffington Post, shows the rough treatment of a minor by correctional officers and may be disturbing to some viewers. If you are in a public place, headphones are advisable.

The footage, which can be seen below, would be disturbing even if I didn’t know the young man being held down by half a dozen officers. But, according to a message I received earlier this evening, I do know the man. Or at least I know of him. He’s someone we’ve talked about here over the past several years, since he was arrested the age of 14 for the murder of four people in a Detroit drug house. His name is Davontae Sanford.

At least that’s what his mom, Taminko Sanford, just told me. He’s not identified in the video, and his face is blurred, but she says it’s Davontae in the video, being held down by the officers, and then softly singing to himself. And I have no reason not be believer her.

According to the documentation accompanying the footage, it was shot of a 16-year-old inmate with learning disabilities at the Thumb Correctional facility in 2009, so I suspect it is Davontae, who was arrested at 14 years old in 2007. This video, we’re told, came shortly after he threatened to hang himself.

Prison Guards Subdue, Strip, and Restrain a 16-Year-Old Inmate from HuffPost Highline on Vimeo.

Following, by way of background, is something that I wrote about Davontae’s case several years ago.

…Davontae, who read at a third-grade level at the time of his arrest, signed and initialed a typewritten confession given to him by a detective. No video of his questioning, which took place without the presence of his mother or legal council, exists. And, in his signed confession, Davontae claimed that he’d committed the murders with a different weapon than the one which was actually used by the killer. In spite of this, however, Davontae was convicted and sent to prison, where he’s been sentenced to serve from thirty-seven to ninety years. And, that’s not the worst of it. Just months after being sent to prison, an imprisoned hit man by the name of Vincent Smothers confessed to having committed the drug-related killings. Furthermore, he says Davontae had nothing to do with it… Everyone, it would seem, knows that this young man is innocent, and yet he remains in prison…

And I should add that Davontae is still in prison today.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 10.52.24 PM

[The above image was taken from the Huffington Post feature referenced above.]

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  1. anonymous
    Posted July 4, 2015 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    A 14 year old with the mind of a child is coerced into a confession, sent to prison thanks to incompetent counsel, and then attempts to take his life at 16. The American justice system has completely failed this child.

  2. John Galt
    Posted July 5, 2015 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Let’s say he didn’t commit this crime. How do we know he wouldn’t have done something else even worse?

  3. Posted July 5, 2015 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Thanks for following up on this, Mark. We need to do something to get this individual out of the prison plantation system, now.

  4. Amy Probst
    Posted July 5, 2015 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I did a six-month field work placement at Boys & Girls Republic in Farmington, a residential facility for teens who had either committed crimes or were taken from their homes due to abuse: both received the exact same treatment. It was one of the most depressing experiences of my life. The people who are with these kids 24/7 are in minimum-wage or near minimum-wage positions.

  5. S.P.
    Posted July 5, 2015 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I worked with Corrections…not for, with… and surely they are greatest collector of sheer assholes of any profession.

  6. Move On
    Posted July 7, 2015 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Michigan is one of only a handful of states that locks up juvenile offenders under the age of 18 alongside the adult prison population, often for non-violent offenses.

    A recent investigation by the Huffington Post found a system rife with abuse and horrific treatment of children by guards and fellow inmates throughout Michigan.

    They found instances of children as young as 16 forced to share cells with adults where they were repeatedly subjected to sexual abuse. Or corrections officers, totally untrained in dealing with adolescents, forcibly restraining teens on slabs of concretes for days at a time. And a penal system, all the way from the county prosecutor to the attorney general, stacked against the poor and young people of color.

    Here’s how Huffington Post Editor Ryan Grim summarized the shocking abuses: “The overincarceration of people in American society has reached pathological levels, but for the same treatment to be meted out to children demands immediate intervention. Liberals, conservatives and libertarians are all coming together to call for comprehensive criminal justice reform, and the movement’s progress is impressive and hopeful. But there is a long way to go, and these kids can’t wait.”

    The findings of this investigation are a national disgrace and Michigan lawmakers should move quickly to end these abuses. A civilized society doesn’t put children in prison with adults.



  7. Posted March 14, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Sign this petition: http://tinyurl.com/gwkln8l

    Please join me in standing up for justice. Ask Gov. Snyder to do the right thing and grant Davontae Sanford clemency. One day in jail for a crime you did not commit is too long, nine years is a nightmare. Let’s help end Davontae’s nightmare.


    Davontae Sanford has been in prison for nearly nine years for a crime he did not commit. In 2007, Sanford, a partially blind, developmentally disabled 14-year-old child, was interrogated by police after four people were murdered on Runyon Street in his neighborhood. He was questioned twice without the presence of his parents or an attorney. In the second of his two statements, he implicated himself as one of the shooters, but later “told a psychologist that he had made it all up because the police had told him he could go home if he would ‘just [tell] them something.’”

    Two weeks after Davontae was convicted of the crime, another man confessed and gave unknown details of the murder and led authorities to one of the murder weapons. However, hitman Vincent “Vito” Smothers was never charged in the quadruple homicide for which Mr. Sanford now wastes away in prison. According to the Marshall Project, although Smothers denied Sanford’s involvement in the murders, prosecutors offered him a shorter sentence for all of the 12 murders he had confessed to if he promised not to testify in Sanford’s defense.

    What more do officials need to be convinced that this is a horrible miscarriage of justice and that Davontae Sanford should not be behind bars? Please join me in asking Gov. Rick Snyder to grant Sanford clemency and free him from his unjust 39-year sentence.

    Sanford’s trial lawyer had a long record of incompetence and has since been suspended from practicing in the state of Michigan. For reasons still unknown, Robert Slameka decided not to even challenge Sanford’s confession in court, even though it was clear that his age and disability, and the way it was acquired, should have raised blaring red flags.

    Vincent Smothers is now serving time for having several murders. After having told police that he was responsible for the crime Davontae was being punished for, he spoke these words in an interview with the Associated Press:

    “He’s not guilty. He didn’t do it… I understand what prison life is like; it’s miserable. To be here and be innocent – I don’t know what it’s like. He’s a kid, and I hate for him to do the kind of time they’re giving him.”

    It is shocking that such compassion came from a man responsible for killing a dozen people, while the prosecutor and judge in Davontae’s case seem incapable of the same.

  8. Posted June 7, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Judge Brian Sullivan has signed the order. DAVONTAE is going FREE TODAY!!!

    Thank you for support, Mark, and for bringing so much attention to this sickening injustice.


One Trackback

  1. […] [Here, for those of you who are interested, are some of our earlier posts on the Davontae Sanford case: The strange case of Davontae Sanford, Davontae Sanford, in prison for murders he almost certainly didn’t commit, finally gets national exposure in The New Yorker, Making the front page of Reddit with my post on Davontae Sanford, Disturbing video surfaces of Davontae Sanford being forcefully subdued by prison guards at the age o….] […]

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