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Denver woman awarded $3.76M after SWAT searched her house, caused damage

The team obtained a search warrant based on “Find my iphone” pings that a victim in a theft case provided; the woman whose home was searched was not found to be involved in the theft

Shelly Bradbury
The Denver Post

DENVER — A Denver jury on Friday awarded $3.76 million to a 78-year-old Montbello woman after finding Denver police violated her rights when they surrounded her home, ordered her outside with a bullhorn and then searched her house.

Denver police Detective Gary Staab and his supervisor, Sgt. Gregory Buschy, did not have legal justification for the search at Ruby Johnson’s home in January 2022, the jury found after a weeklong trial in Denver District Court.

The jurors awarded Johnson $1.26 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages, according to a jury verdict form filed Monday.

Denver police officers dressed in military-style SWAT gear descended on Johnson’s home on Jan. 4, 2022, to serve the search warrant. Standing on her lawn next to an armored tactical vehicle, the officers ordered Johnson out of her home. She emerged in a bathrobe and officers put her in the back of a police car, where she waited for hours while they searched her home.

The officers were looking for a stolen cellphone that was believed to be inside a stolen truck along with several guns. The owner of the stolen truck told police he’d used Apple’s Find My iPhone app and that the app showed the missing iPhone twice pinged near the intersection where Johnson lived on Jan. 3, 2022.

Staab used those pings to obtain a search warrant for Johnson’s house. The search warrant was approved by the Denver District Attorney’s Office and signed by Judge Beth Faragher.

As the officers conducted a knock-and-announce warrant at Johnson’s home, she said they smashed the door to her garage with a battering ram, broke apart a ceiling panel, damaged a collectible doll and left the house in shambles.

The officers found nothing. Johnson had nothing to do with the stolen goods, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado said in a news release Monday.

Johnson and the ACLU of Colorado sued in late 2022, alleging the officers didn’t have enough evidence for the search warrant and used excessive force during the raid. Staab never conducted an independent investigation into the truck owner’s claims about the phone pings before filing the request for the search warrant, the lawsuit read. And phone pings offer only an approximate location, not an exact one, the ACLU alleged.

The raid left Johnson fearful to be home alone, she said in the lawsuit. She moved out of her home, where she’d lived for four decades, after the incident.

“Not only was her privacy violated and invaluable possessions destroyed, but her sense of safety in her own home was ripped away, forcing her to move from the place where she had set her roots and built community in for 40 years,” said Deborah Richardson, executive director of the ACLU of Colorado.

Denver police declined to comment on the jury verdict Monday. In a statement when the lawsuit was filed, Department of Public Safety officials apologized to Johnson for “any negative impacts” the raid may have had on her.

Attorneys for Staab and a spokeswoman for the Denver City Attorney’s Office did not return requests for comment Monday.


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