Detective sued for SWAT raid based on wrong location on Find My App
When a SWAT team showed up outside her house in January and asked anyone in the house over the loudspeaker to come out with their hands up, Ruby Johnson was watching TV in a bathrobe, cap and slippers, court documents show.
The SWAT team and Denver police had arrived at Ms Johnson’s home in an armored vehicle with a German Shepherd. Officers, some in tactical gear with rifles, used a battering ram on the back garage door of Ms Johnson’s home and also caused damage inside the home, court records show.
Officers searched for stolen property while Ms Johnson, 77, waited in a police vehicle. After several hours, the police left. Their searches were in vain.
In a lawsuit filed last week, Ms Johnson, a retired US Postal Service employee who lives alone, said a detective, Gary Staab, applied for the warrant based on inaccurate information from the Find My app. The mobile app, which helps find missing or lost Apple products, such as iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, led him to believe stolen property was inside his home, the lawsuit alleges .
Mark Silverstein, Ms. Johnson’s attorney and the ACLU of Colorado’s legal director, said Monday that Detective Staab, the only defendant named in the lawsuit, should not have applied for the warrant.
“The detective did not have the facts necessary to justify a search,” Mr. Silverstein said. “His supervisor should have vetoed it. The district attorney shouldn’t have given the green light. The judge shouldn’t have approved it and the SWAT team should have stayed home.
The Denver Police Department said in a statement Monday that it has opened an internal investigation and is working with the Denver District Attorney’s Office to create warrant training for officers based on apps like Find. My.
“The Department of Public Safety and the Denver Police Department sincerely apologize to Ms. Johnson for any negative impact this situation may have had on her,” the department said, adding that it hopes “to resolve the matter. “without further litigation.
Detective Staab, who is still with the police department, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. It was unclear if he had an attorney.
He was assigned Jan. 4 to investigate a truck that had been reported stolen the previous day, according to court documents. Documents show the owner told police that inside the truck were four semi-automatic handguns, a military-style tactical rifle, a revolver, two drones, $4,000 in cash and an iPhone. 11.
The detective questioned the owner of the truck, Jeremy McDaniel, who told him he had used the Find My app the day before to search for the iPhone and had placed the lost phone at an address, according to court documents. .
Mr McDaniel, who could not be reached on Monday, also told Detective Staab that he had rented a car to drive to the address but had not seen his truck. Mr McDaniel told the detective he suspected his truck might have been in the garage of the house.
The Find My app was created to help owners of Apple products find an “approximate location” of a lost item, in accordance with the legal terms of the app. The tool relies on a combination of cellular, Wi-Fi and GPS networks and Bluetooth data to show users an estimate of where the lost item might be.
The approximate location can be specific enough to identify a household or broad enough to include multiple buildings, if the item cannot be identified precisely. In the reviews of the app, many users reported success in finding lost items, while others said the app was inaccurate.
Apple, developers of the Find My app, did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit on Monday.
The lawsuit included a screenshot of the Find My app linking Mr McDaniel’s phone to a house, but the radius included parts of other houses and two streets spread over four-block sections.
“The screenshot offered no basis to believe that McDaniel’s iPhone was likely to be inside Ms. Johnson’s home, rather than on one of several neighbors’ properties or dumped in a nearby street by a passing driver,” the lawsuit said.
About three hours after questioning Mr. McDaniel on January 4, Detective Staab obtained a search warrant, and Denver police and SWAT officers quickly descended on Ms. Johnson’s lawn.
After the raid, “Ms. Johnson couldn’t bear to stay in her house,” so she lived with her daughter nearby for a week and then stayed at her son’s house in Houston for several months, according to the lawsuit.
Ms Johnson has since returned home, but is considering moving, as she “experiences anxiety living alone in her home and is afraid to answer the door”, the suit states.