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ACLU Lawsuit Claims Grandmother’s Home Was ‘Illegally’ Raided by SWAT Team Searching for Stolen iPhone 11


Ruby Johnson, a 77-year-old grandmother and retired civil servant in Colorado, claims she was at home alone in January when a Denver Police Department SWAT team arrived in an armored vehicle with at least 8 officers wearing full body armor and carrying automatic weapons who tore her home apart in search of a missing iPhone.

Police found no stolen phone or any indication of criminal activity. Now, Johnson is suing Gary Staab, the lead detective in the case, claiming he used a “hastily prepared, bare-bones, misleading affidavit” to obtain a warrant and perform and “illegal search” of Johnson’s home that left her traumatized, according to a recently filed complaint.

The lawsuit, filed on Dec. 1 in the Denver County District Court by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says that police were looking into a truck that had been stolen from a nearby Hyatt. The truck allegedly contained four semi-automatic handguns, a tactical military-style rifle, a revolver, two drones, $4,000.00 in cash, and an old iPhone 11.

When Staab spoke to the owner of the stolen vehicle, the man said he’d used the “Find My” app to track his phone, which had “pinged” at Johnson’s address at approximately 11:30 a.m. and 3:55 p.m. the day it was stolen, according to an sworn affidavit submitted by Staab.

However, in a screenshot from the “Find My” app actually indicated that the phone “pinged” somewhere in the vicinity of Johnson’s home and did not give a precise location. Despite this, Staab allegedly swore that the screenshot from the app “signified the phone being inside of [Johnson’s] house.”

“Crucially, if a device’s location cannot be determined precisely, the user will see a blue circle around the device’s marker on the map. The size of the blue circle shows how precisely the device’s location can be determined. For example, the larger the circle; the greater the inaccuracy,” the complaint states. “This blue circle covered an area spanning at least six different properties and parts of four different blocks in the vicinity of [redacted] Street.”

Staab allegedly did no other independent police work to corroborate whether the phone was actually inside of Johnson’s home, instead choosing to simply apply for a warrant that was approved by Judge Beth Faragher.

“On the authority of the illegally issued warrant, Denver police arrived at 77-year-old Ms. Johnson’s home, where she lives alone, with an overwhelming and intimidating show of unnecessary force. Confused and afraid, Ms. Johnson opened her front door to the sound of a bullhorn and the sight of swarming officers in militarized gear, an armored vehicle parked on her lawn and marked cars flanking her property,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Both Ms. Johnson and her home of 40 years carry wounds from that day that have not healed. Johnson no longer feels safe in her own home. She developed health issues due to the extreme stress and anxiety the unlawful search caused her.”

Mark Silverstein, the ACLU of Colorado Legal Director and one of the attorneys who signed the lawsuit, said that multiple government actors failed in protecting Johnson’s civil rights.

“Detective Staab had no grounds to seek a search warrant,” he said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit. “His supervisor should have vetoed it. The district attorney should not have green-lighted it, the judge should have rejected it and the SWAT team should have stayed home.”

The suit alleges that the search violated the state constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure and is seeking compensatory damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Body camera footage of the raid shows Johnson being taken from her home wearing a bathrobe and appearing scared and confused as the tactical team searches the home.

[image via court documents]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.