ACLU of Colorado lawyers filed suit against Denver Police Officers on behalf of Ruby Johnson for violations of the Colorado Constitution for ransacking her home based on an utterly deficient search warrant for a crime that Ruby had nothing to do with. Ms. Johnson was a 78-year-old grandmother who lived alone in her Montbello home when she was subjected to a terrifying hours-long search by a Denver Police Department (DPD) SWAT team in body armor and carrying automatic weapons. On January 4, 2022, Ms. Johnson’s world was shaken when a DPD SWAT team showed up at her home of 40 years, searching for stolen goods and evidence of a truck theft. The hastily undertaken and outsized operation was based on a manifestly deficient search warrant and turned up nothing because Ms. Johnson and her home had no involvement whatsoever with the alleged incident.
The day prior to the search, DPD Detective Gary Staab was assigned to investigate a January 3 theft of a truck. The truck’s owner, Jeremy McDaniel, said it contained two drones, six firearms, $4,000 cash, and an old iPhone 11. The sole basis Detective Staab identified for connecting the crime to Ms. Johnson’s address was McDaniel’s use of Apple’s Find My app to try to track the old iPhone, which had allegedly pinged in the Montbello neighborhood. But contrary to Detective Staab’s representations to the reviewing judge, the Find My app in fact made clear that the iPhone’s location could not be accurately identified, and there was no basis to identify and search Ms. Johnson’s home.
We brought this action against DPD Detective Gary Staab, who obtained the warrant and led the ensuing illegal search, and DPD Sergeant Gregory Buschy, who reviewed and approved the deficient warrant. The Colorado Constitution requires that search warrants be based on probable cause supported by a written affidavit before police can invade the privacy of someone’s home. This fundamental protection ensures that all of us can maintain the sanctity of our homes from police intrusion. Here, however, the deficient warrant authorizing the search of Ms. Johnson’s home was unsupported by probable cause.
This case, as part of the ACLU of Colorado’s Campaign for Smart Justice, is just one example of a larger problem of police obtaining warrants and invading people's homes based on false information, including — like in this case —when police misrepresent the significance and accuracy of technology.