Ruby Johnson sues Denver police officer for ‘illegal search’ of house

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It was a Tuesday afternoon in Denver and Ruby Johnson — a 77-year-old grandmother and retired U.S. Postal Service worker — was relaxing in a black bathrobe, matching bonnet and slippers. His plans to watch television, however, are suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a heavily armed SWAT team.

On Jan. 4, several officers stood outside Johnson’s home in an armored vehicle. Using a bullhorn, an officer ordered everyone inside the home to come out, body-camera footage shows.

Authorities were investigating the theft of a white truck carrying guns, a drone, $4,000 in cash and an iPhone — but they got the wrong address and, in doing so, conducted an “illegal search” of Johnson’s property, the lawsuit alleges. The American Civil Liberties Union made the allegations this week.

Now, Johnson is suing Gary Staub, the lead detective in the raid based on Johnson’s lawyers’ faulty reading of geolocation pins in Apple’s Find My app and a “hastily prepared, bare-bones, misleading affidavit” used to obtain one. warrant.

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Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado, told the Washington Post, “It’s actually a good thing no one was hurt in this situation — because incidents like this lead to deaths like Breonna Taylor’s.” “It’s one thing to find a vacant house or farm or even a business. But when people live there, the privacy of the home must be important enough that we need more compelling evidence to justify that kind of search. “

In a statement to The Post, the Denver Police Department and public safety officials apologized to Johnson, saying “the SWAT team was called due to allegations that six firearms were stolen and may have been at Ms. Johnson’s home.” Police Chief Ron Thomas has ordered an internal investigation into the incident and is “working with the Denver District Attorney’s Office to develop additional training for officers and assistant district attorneys involved in searching for warrants based on find my phone applications,” the statement added.

The chain of events that eventually led a SWAT team to Johnson’s home began with a burglary report the day before. On January 3, a man named Jeremy McDaniel reported his truck stolen from the Hat Parking Garage. Inside the vehicle was an iPhone 11, which McDaniel told police he traced to a specific address — the address Johnson called home, the lawsuit states.

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In fact, the complaint alleges, the Find My app — a feature that allows Apple users to locate their devices — didn’t show the correct location; It narrowed down the phone’s estimated address to only “an area spanning at least six different properties and parts of four different blocks,” the lawsuit claims.

Shortly after speaking with McDaniel, Staab sought a search warrant for Johnson’s home, which was included in the highlighted area as the approximate location of the phone — a move that “completely misrepresented what the Find My screenshots showed,” Silverstein said.

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According to the complaint, it took about four hours for law enforcement officers to interview McDaniel, file an affidavit, obtain a search warrant and then travel to Johnson’s home — the same amount of time it took authorities to search the home, which was abandoned. The home became chaotic and Johnson’s sense of safety, privacy and peace was shattered as a result, the lawsuit alleges. No phone was recovered.

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Silverstein said the raid violated Johnson’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protect people from unreasonable search and seizure by authorities.

“It is not probable cause to search a particular house if it is equally probable [the phone] There is a possibility that there are five others in the house or somewhere on the street,” he added.

Silverstein said the home Johnson has lived in for four decades — where he raised his children — It doesn’t feel like home anymore. The episode left the 77-year-old “absolutely shaken”.

“To explain how amazing it was, imagine all these guys getting out of an armored vehicle with guns on their thighs,” he said. “And [Johnson] It’s just standing there.”

“Being home now helps remind her of what happened all the time,” Silverstein added.


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