Ruby Johnson stands outside her Colorado home as a Denver police SWAT team raids it. (Screenshot via body camera)
A Colorado grandmother had a full SWAT raid on her home in January, all thanks to a detective who used a screenshot of the inaccurate iPhone app ‘Find My’ to obtain a search warrant, Complaint filed with the High Court claims last week.
Ruby Johnson, 77, a retired postal worker, was home alone watching television on January 4 when she heard a car horn sound, followed by an amplified voice over a loudspeaker ordering all occupants of his Montbello neighborhood home to come out with their hands up, the lawsuit says. Dressed in a bathrobe and slippers and with a cap on her head, she walked through the front door of her home and was greeted by an armored truck, marked vehicles, officers in military uniforms holding guns and even a K-9 dog.
“Is there anyone else in the house?” one of the Denver Police Department officers asks Johnson, according to body camera footage obtained by local NBC News affiliate 9News earlier this year.
“No, no one else is in the house,” she tells him as she stands in the back of the armored vehicle. She also assures officers that she keeps her doors locked.
“It’s weird,” she told them. “I mean, I see stuff like that in the movies, but I didn’t think it would ever happen to me.”
The officers were there to execute a warrant obtained by Det. Gary Staab, who was investigating a truck stolen Jan. 3 that contained $4,000 in cash, a tactical rifle, four handguns, a revolver, two drones and, most importantly for the detective’s investigation, an iPhone 11.
In a phone interview with the truck owner the day after the truck was stolen, Staab learned that the location of the iPhone had been probed twice at Johnson’s home using the “Find My” app. of Apple before disappearing. Although the owner was unable to find the stolen phone or truck himself when he drove by, he told the detective he suspected it might be parked in the garage of the house. Johnson.
Staab, using a screenshot of the phone’s alleged location and the victim’s claim that the Find My Phone app had been accurate enough to locate his devices within five feet of his location in the past , was able to obtain a warrant for the raid from a Denver county court judge.
The screenshot in question, however, shows that the stolen iPhone 11 was not last seen on Johnson’s property, but somewhere near her home and at least six others.
Apple’s Find My app isn’t always clear about the exact location of a user’s device. It instead offers an approximate location in these cases, as indicated by a radial circle. Apple even recommends in its own court procedure guidelines that law enforcement should request the location of the devices through the manufacturer.
“The warrant authorizing the unlawful search of Mrs. Johnson’s home [was] published on the hastily prepared, stripped and misleading affidavit of the defendant Staab,” the lawsuit read. “The affidavit presented absolutely no independent basis to support a connection to Ms. Johnson’s home.”
Johnson is placed in the back of a police cruiser, according to body camera footage, as cops search her property thoroughly, destroying some of her property, including a collectible doll and locks to her garage as well as standing on newly purchased furniture to search his attic. After hours of searching, the police found nothing incriminating and finally let her go.
No one apologized or explained the exact reason for the raid, according to the lawsuit, and Johnson says she was physically and emotionally traumatized by the officer’s actions. Immediately after the raid, she spent the week with her daughter, who lived nearby, before spending the next three months with her son in Houston, Texas, the lawsuit says.
“Memories of her four decades there were overtaken by the unlawful police search that redefined what her home means to her,” the lawsuit reads. “It is no longer a refuge but a reminder of its vulnerability, even when its doors are locked.”
Johnson, with assistance from the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado, is suing Det. Staab for an undetermined amount of damages, as well as cover for his attorney’s fees.
It is not known if Det. Staab still has a lawyer in the case. The Denver Police Department did not immediately respond to VICE News’ requests for comment.
Police raids, including those that led to the murder of Breonna Taylor in 2020, to Amir Locke earlier this year have been the subject of criticism across the United States, especially over the past two years. The practice has been a repeated point of contention for critics who say these warrants have been used to justify the shooting of innocent black and brown home, often in the middle of the night.
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