Grandma Awarded $3.8M After SWAT Raid Due to Mistaken Find My iPhone App Signal

On Friday, a Denver jury awarded $3.76 million to a 78-year-old grandmother who had her home wrongfully searched and damaged by a SWAT team investigating a car theft. The jury ruled in favor of Ruby Johnson, following the passage of a new Colorado law allowing people to pursue lawsuits against police officers if they believe their constitutional rights have been infringed.

Johnson, a retired USPS worker, filed a complaint against two police officers. Prior to the new law, anyone who accused Colorado police of misbehavior could only file such claims in federal court. However, qualified immunity made it difficult for claimants to obtain a favorable ruling. The legal basis typically shields officers and their departments from civil lawsuits related to police violence.

The SWAT team wrongfully searched Johnson’s home on January 4, 2022, after the owner of the stolen vehicle used the Find My app to track its location, according to the lawsuit. This led to the police obtaining the search warrant. The stolen vehicle also included four semi-automatic handguns, a rifle, a revolver, two drones, $4,000 cash, and an iPhone.

The lawsuit claims that Detective Gary Staab, one of the two officers identified as defendants, got the order incorrectly due to faulty app details that only indicated a geographical position of the phone. The warrant was approved by Sgt. Gregory Buschy, the second defendant listed in the claim.

According to the lawsuit, officers responded to the scene with a bullhorn, ordering everybody inside to raise their hands and come out. Johnson heard the command not long after she got out of the shower. The Associated Press said that Johnson discovered an armored personnel carrier on her property after opening the front door. She also witnessed a police dog, police trucks stationed on her street, and armed men dressed in military fatigues.

According to the lawsuit, despite Johnson’s instructions on how to unlock the door, officers used a battering ram to enter her garage. They also got access to her attic by destroying the ceiling tiles and standing on her new dining room chairs, according to the lawsuit. The police were also accused of destroying a doll in her home.

According to Tim Macdonald, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, Johnson developed ulcers and had difficulty sleeping after the incident. This eventually led to her moving to a different neighborhood. Macdonald also stated that Johnson was deeply affected by the loss of her sense of safety in her own house.

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

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