$3.8M awarded to grandma after SWAT team used Find My iPhone App to wrongly raid her home

Ruby Johnson’s home was wrongly raided by a SWAT team — Photo via Denver Police Department

By Face2Face Africa

ADenver jury on Friday awarded $3.76 million to a 78-year-old grandmother whose home was wrongly searched and damaged by a SWAT team investigating a car theft case. According to The Associated Press, the jury ruling in favor of Ruby Johnson comes after the passage of a new Colorado law that permits plaintiffs to file lawsuits against police officers if they feel their state constitutional rights have been violated.

Johnson, who is a retired U.S. Postal Service worker, filed the lawsuit against two police officers. Until the new law was passed, people who accused Colorado police of misconduct were initially only able to bring such lawsuits in federal court. But qualified immunity made it challenging for verdicts to be ruled in favor of claimants. The legal principle usually protects officers and their departments from facing civil lawsuits pertaining to police violence.

Johnson’s home was wrongly searched by the SWAT team on January 4, 2022, after the owner of the stolen vehicle notified authorities about the car being at the said address after using the Find My app to track its location, the lawsuit stated, adding that it led the police to obtain the search warrant. The items in the stolen vehicle also included four semi-automatic handguns, a rifle, a revolver, two drones, $4,000 cash, and an iPhone.

But the lawsuit alleged that one of the two officers named as defendants in the lawsuit, Detective Gary Staab, obtained the warrant wrongly as the details provided by the app were inaccurate and only gave a general location of the place a phone could be found. The warrant was approved by Sgt. Gregory Buschy, the second defendant named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit stated that officers who responded to the scene initially used a bullhorn to order anyone inside the home to raise their hands and come out. Johnson heard that order not too long after she stepped out of the shower. Johnson later saw an armored personnel carrier on her property after opening her front door, The Associated Press reported. She also saw a police dog and police vehicles parked on her street as well as armed men completely dressed in military-style fatigues.

The lawsuit also stated that though Johnson told the officers how they could open the door, they went ahead to use a battering ram to gain access to her garage. They also gained access to her attic after damaging the ceiling tiles and stood on her new dining room chairs, the lawsuit added. The officers were also accused of damaging a doll in her home.

Tim Macdonald, who is the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said Johnson suffered ulcers and had sleeping issues in the wake of the incident. This caused her to ultimately relocate to another neighborhood. Macdonald also revealed Johnson losing that feeling of safety in her own home struck her hard.

“For us, the damage was always about the psychological and the emotional harm to Ms. Johnson,” said Macdonald.