SWAT team storms 77-year-old’s house after app leads them to wrong home, US lawsuit says

Johnson, 77, was in her Montbello home of 40 years in January when a Denver Police Department SWAT team wearing body armour and holding automatic weapons rushed in, according to a news release by the ACLU of Colorado. — Unsplash

A SWAT team stormed a grandmother’s home after an app led them to the wrong house, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado said in a recently filed lawsuit.

Ruby Johnson, 77, was in her Montbello home of 40 years in January when a Denver Police Department SWAT team wearing body armour and holding automatic weapons rushed in, according to a news release by the ACLU of Colorado.

The operation was “based on a manifestly deficient search warrant and turned up nothing,” according to the lawsuit filed Dec 1.

The SWAT team left Johnson’s home “damaged, in disarray and caused (her) physical and emotional harm,” according to the release.

“The Department of Public Safety and Denver Police Department sincerely apologise to Ms. Johnson for any negative impacts this situation may have had on her,” the Denver Police Department told McClatchy News. “SWAT was involved in the execution of the warrant due to allegations that six guns had been stolen and may have been located in Ms. Johnson’s home.”

On Jan 4, 2022, Denver Police Department detective Gary Staab was assigned to investigate stolen items and a truck theft, according to the lawsuit.

The stolen truck’s owner said the car had two drones, six firearms, US$4,000 (RM17,604) cash and an iPhone 11 in it, ACLU officials said.

Staab connected Johnson’s address to the crimes after using Apple’s Find My app to track the iPhone that was in the stolen truck, the lawsuit said.

The app uses WiFi, cellphone information, GPS networks and Bluetooth to find a rough location of someone’s device, according to the lawsuit. Officials said the app isn’t intended to be used by law enforcement and in this case identified “an area spanning at least six different properties and parts of four different blocks”.

Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas has “ordered that an internal investigation be opened and DPD is working with the Denver District Attorney’s office to develop additional training for officers and assistant district attorneys related to seeking warrants based upon find my phone applications”, the department told McClatchy News.

The lawsuit accused the detective of “seeking, obtaining, and executing a search warrant without proper investigation, adequate facts and legal justification, in violation of the Colorado Constitution”, ACLU officials said.

“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,” Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado legal director, said in the release.

“Confused and afraid,” Johnson spent hours in a police car while the SWAT team performed a search of her home, the ACLU release said.

After the incident, Johnson says she “no longer feels safe in her own home,” according to the release. She’s “developed health issues due to the extreme stress and anxiety the unlawful search caused her.”

The ACLU accuses Staab of violating her constitutional “right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.”

“Once Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas was made aware of concerns expressed by Ms. Johnson’s family regarding the warrant, the Department reached out to the family. We hope to continue to work with Ms. Johnson’s family through her attorneys to resolve this matter without further litigation,” the Denver Police Department told McClatchy News.

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and more.

“We cherish Mom. It’s painful to witness how this violation has affected her,” Johnson’s son Greg Brunson said in the release. “She’s still hurting. She still doesn’t understand why this happened to her. And after everything, she still hasn’t gotten as much as an apology from the police.” – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service

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