An elderly Colorado woman is suing a Denver police detective who ordered a SWAT raid on her home after Apple’s ‘Find my’ app falsely interrogated her as the location of several stolen items – including six guns and an old iPhone – according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The suit, filed in Denver District Court by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, alleges that Denver Police Department Detective Gary Staab unlawfully issued a warrant for the search of Ruby’s home. Johnson, 77, on January 4. based on what the complaint describes as a “hastily prepared, stripped down and misleading affidavit”.
The complaint states that Johnson is suing Staab “as an individual.” Johnson is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages, according to the filing.
Staab could not be reached immediately.
The complaint alleges that Staab’s affidavit violated Johnson’s right, granted by the state constitution, to “be free from unreasonable search and seizure.” The affidavit allegedly ‘lacks probable cause for felony evidence to be found’ at Johnson’s home because it was based on an unverified and vague ping from Apple’s ‘Find My’ app, which is used to track Apple devices.
Staab issued the search warrant the day after a white truck with a Texas license plate was stolen from the parking lot of a Denver Hyatt hotel, according to the owner of the truck, who was staying at the hotel. The owner told police the truck contained six firearms — including a military-style tactical rifle — two drones, $4,000 in cash and an old iPhone 11.
The next morning, according to the complaint, Staab questioned the owner of the truck by telephone, who said he had used the “Find My” application to search for his stolen belongings and that he had twice sent the address of Johnson the day before. Staab later used that claim as the basis for the raid, according to a copy of the affidavit obtained by NBC affiliate KUSA of Denver.
The complaint alleges that there were two main problems with this: first, Staab allegedly did not attempt to independently corroborate the alleged location of the stolen items before proceeding with the raid; and second, the “Find My” app is used to determine approximate locations and “is not intended as a law enforcement tool,” according to the complaint.
The area highlighted on the app as the possible location of the phone, for example, spanned at least six properties and four city blocks, according to an image of the complaint that also appeared on the affidavit obtained by KUSA.
“Defendant Staab presented his false characterization of the meaning of the screenshot as objective fact and omitted the particular facts and circumstances that contradicted it,” the complaint states.
“The house was left in a mess”
Johnson – who the filing describes as a “United States Postal Service employee and grandmother who lives alone in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood” – was “frightened and confused” when the SWAT team arrived in military gear, with tactical rifles and a police-trained German Shepherd dog, and used a megaphone to demand anyone inside the house come out.
According to the filing, officers damaged Johnson’s home while keeping her seated in a police cruiser, even after she told them there was nothing stolen from the house. The complaint alleges they used a battering ram to “destroy” the back garage door and door frame – even after Johnson gave them instructions on how to open the garage door.
Officers also ‘smashed the head off one of Ms Johnson’s prized collectible doll figurines which Ms Johnson had treasured for almost three decades as a gift from her youngest son,’ the complaint states, adding that police have also searched his belongings.
“The house was left in a mess,” even though the raid turned up no items sought by police and no evidence of a connection to the crime, according to the complaint.
“Tears start to flow”
The episode caused Johnson “serious physical and emotional distress”, according to the complaint: “Ms. Johnson’s privacy, sense of security and peace in her home have been shattered since her home became the theater of a militarized criminal investigation.”
After the raid, Johnson left her home – first to spend a week with her daughter, who lives nearby, then to stay with her son in Texas for several months – because she “couldn’t bear to stay in his house,” according to the complaint. Since returning home, she is still afraid to answer the door and plans to move, according to the complaint.
“When I start thinking about it, the tears start flowing,” Johnson told KUSA.
The filing claims that Staab “admitted to Ms. Johnson’s children the harm his DPD officers caused to the welfare, home and personal property of Ms. Johnson”, but told them that the service of police would not pay for search repairs.
Neither Staab nor the police department apologized for the raid, according to the complaint.
The Denver Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment.
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