Grandmother gets $3.8 million after iPhone error sends SWAT team to her home

In the search for a missing truck, the police officers did not highlight that the Find My app only gives a general location for where a phone might be.

A grandmother in Denver in the United States has won a $3.76m (£3m) jury verdict after her home was wrongfully searched by a SWAT team thanks to an iPhone app.

A team of armed officers attended Ruby Johnson’s property searching for a stolen truck, which contained guns and an iPhone tracked to the 78-year-old’s home using the Find My app.

The lawsuit alleged that police got a search warrant based on the information as they attempted to find the stolen vehicle, which contained four semi-automatic handguns, a rifle, a revolver, two drones, $4,000 (£3,140) cash and an iPhone.

A jury ruled in Ms Johnson’s favour under a new Colorado law which allows people to sue the police over violations of their state constitutional rights.

Detective Gary Staab had wrongly obtained the warrant to search the septuagenarian’s home because he did not point out that the app’s information is not precise and provides only a general location of where a phone could be, the lawsuit said.

The iPhone tracking data was given to police by the man who owned the stolen truck and its contents.

It said Ms Johnson, a retired postal service worker, had just got out of the shower on January 4, 2022 when she heard a loud announcement for anybody in the house to exit the building with their hands up.

Wearing only a bathrobe, she opened her front door to see an armoured vehicle on her doorstep, police vehicles lining the street, and men in full military uniform carrying rifles with a police dog.

The police used a battering ram to get into Ms Johnson’s garage even though she had explained how to open the door.

They broke the ceiling tiles to get into her attic, standing on top of one of her brand new dining room chairs, according to the lawsuit.

Officials also broke the head off a doll created to look just like her, complete with glasses, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado legal director Tim Macdonald said.

It is unclear whether the truck and its contents were found and returned to the owner.

Mr Macdonald said the biggest damage was done to Ms Johnson’s sense of safety in the home where she raised three children as a single mother.

She suffered ulcers and had trouble sleeping, before she eventually moved to a different neighbourhood.

“For us, the damage was always about the psychological and the emotional harm to Ms Johnson,” he said.

The lawsuit was brought under a provision of a sweeping police reform bill passed in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and is the first significant case to go to trial, the ACLU of Colorado said.

State lawmakers created a right to sue individual police officers for state constitutional violations in state court.

Previously, people alleging police misconduct could only file lawsuits in federal court, where it has become difficult to pursue such cases.

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