An elderly Colorado grandmother is suing a Denver police detective for ordering a raid of her home triggered by a mistaken ping from a Find My iPhone app.
A SWAT team stormed 77-year-old Ruby Johnson’s Montebello home after a serious misunderstanding about how to use the handy Apple app, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the ACLU of Colorado.
At least eight officers in full body armor toting automatic weapons raided Johnson’s home in search of several stolen items, including six firearms and an iPhone, on Jan. 4.
Johnson’s suit named Gary Staab, the lead detective in the botched raid.
The complaint claims Staab used a “hastily prepared, bare-bones, misleading affidavit” to obtain a warrant and perform an “illegal search” of Johnson’s home.
She’s seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages, according to the filing — and is suing Staab “in his individual capacity.”
Police were searching for a stolen truck that allegedly contained four semi-automatic handguns, a tactical military-style rifle, a revolver, two drones, an old iPhone 11 and $4,000 in cash.
Stills from bodycam footage taken that day show a confused Johnson being ordered outside her home while wearing a bathrobe.
Staab had ordered the raid of Johnson’s home after speaking to the owner of the stolen vehicle, who said he had used the Find My iPhone app and saw his phone had pinged at Johnson’s address the day it was stolen.
A screenshot from the app, however, later revealed the phone “pinged” somewhere in the vicinity of Johnson’s home and did not give a precise location. Even without the exact location, Staab allegedly insisted the stolen items were inside Johnson’s home.
The complaint asserts that Staab’s affidavit violated Johnson’s right to be “free of unreasonable searches and seizures” and that the affidavit “lacked probable cause that evidence of crime could be found” at Johnson’s home, since the ping on the Find My iPhone app was not a precise location.
“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.”
The complaint also claims Staab did no additional police work to independently verify whether the phone and other stolen items were inside Johnson’s home.
“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,” the ACLU said in a statement.
Johnson opened the door to a blaring bullhorn and an armored vehicle parked on her front lawn before officers began swarming inside her home wearing military gear.
“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.”