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Friday, June 21, 2024

$3.8M Awarded to Woman After SWAT Team Mistakenly Searches Her Home Due to App Error


From⁢ the heart of DENVER — A landmark case has seen a 78-year-old woman,​ Ruby Johnson, triumph in a lawsuit against two police ‌officers, following ‌an erroneous search of her home by a SWAT team. The search was conducted under the mistaken belief that her home harbored a stolen truck. The jury awarded Johnson a staggering $3.76 million, a⁣ verdict made possible by a recent Colorado law that permits citizens to sue police for infringing on ‌their ‍state ⁢constitutional rights.

The jury’s decision was delivered late Friday in a state court in Denver, with the⁢ American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado, who assisted Johnson‍ in her legal battle, announcing the verdict on Monday. The lawsuit claimed that the police had obtained ⁤a search warrant for Johnson’s home based⁣ on information from the owner of⁢ the stolen‌ truck. The truck contained four semi-automatic handguns,⁢ a rifle, ‌a revolver, two drones, $4,000 in cash, and an iPhone. The owner had tracked the iPhone to Johnson’s ​residence using the Find My app ⁣and relayed this information⁢ to⁢ the police.

As per the lawsuit, Johnson, a retired U.S. Postal Service worker and grandmother, had just stepped out⁣ of the shower ⁤on ⁤the morning of Jan. 4, 2022, when she heard a loud command⁤ over a bullhorn instructing anyone inside the‍ house ⁤to exit with their hands up. Clad only in her bathrobe, ⁤she opened her front door to find an armored personnel‌ carrier parked on her ⁢front lawn, police vehicles lining her street, and men in full military-style gear, armed ‍with rifles and accompanied by a police dog.

The lawsuit further stated that ​Detective Gary Staab had erroneously‌ obtained the warrant to⁤ search Johnson’s home, failing to clarify that the⁣ app’s information is‍ not exact and only provides a general location of where a⁤ phone might be.

Neither Staab nor the supervisor who approved the search warrant, Sgt. Gregory Buschy, who was also sued, responded to requests for comment. The ​Denver Police Department, which was not a defendant in the lawsuit, refrained from commenting on the verdict.

The lawsuit ⁢was ​filed‍ under a clause of a comprehensive police reform bill passed in 2020, ​following the murder of‍ George Floyd. This is‌ the first significant case to go to trial under⁤ this provision, according to the‍ ACLU of Colorado.​ The bill allows individuals to sue police‍ officers ⁣for ⁣state constitutional violations in state court. Prior to this, allegations of police misconduct could only be pursued in federal court, where it has become increasingly challenging ‍to⁢ litigate such cases,‌ largely due ‍to the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity. This doctrine protects officials, ​including police officers, from lawsuits seeking monetary damages for actions taken in the‍ course of their duties.

The lawsuit also detailed how the police⁤ used a battering ⁣ram to force entry into Johnson’s garage, despite her explaining how ​to⁤ open⁢ the door. They also damaged ‍the ceiling tiles to‍ access her attic, standing on one of her ⁤brand⁣ new‌ dining room chairs in the process. They even broke the head off a ‌doll made to ⁤resemble Johnson, complete ⁣with glasses, according to Tim Macdonald, ⁣ACLU of⁢ Colorado’s legal director.

While Johnson is Black, the lawsuit did not claim that race was a factor in the incident,​ Macdonald clarified.

Macdonald emphasized that the most ‌significant ​damage was inflicted ⁣on Johnson’s sense of security in her own home, where ⁤she had raised three children as a single⁤ mother. ‌She had even sacrificed Christmas​ and birthday⁤ gifts to afford the house. The⁣ incident led to her developing ulcers and sleep problems, eventually prompting ⁤her to relocate to a different neighborhood.

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

Truth Media Network
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  1. Disagree – It’s important for law enforcement to be held accountable for their mistakes, but $3.8M seems excessive for a simple error.


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