DENVER (KDVR) — Sirens blared loudly outside of a Montbello home on Jan. 4, 2022, as Denver police SWAT teams rushed to the front and side of the building, ready with a warrant to search the home for stolen goods.

The problem is, they came up empty-handed.

Now the detective who spearheaded the effort is being sued by the ACLU of Colorado on behalf of the homeowner, 77-year-old Ruby Johnson. The ACLU said the search raises questions about Denver police’s process for obtaining these warrants and challenges this search violated Johnson’s constitutional right to privacy.

The investigation started with a stolen truck. On Jan. 3, the owner told police the truck has two drones, six firearms, $4,000 cash and an old iPhone 11 inside, according to the ACLU’s lawsuit. The key issue of the suit focuses on Denver Police Detective Gary Staab relying on the “Find My” app to track the iPhone that was in the truck, seeing it pinged twice at Johnson’s address that day.

According to the lawsuit, Staab submitted a search warrant for Johnson’s address, which was approved by a judge. The lawsuit claims “the affidavit presented absolutely no independent basis to corroborate a nexus to Ms. Johnson’s home,” and claims “the warrant authorizing the illegal search of Ms. Johnson’s home issued on Defendant Staab’s hastily prepared, bare-bones, misleading affidavit.”

The lawsuit claims the search took hours and has left Johnson traumatized.

“For what we think is the egregiousness of the rights violation, to inspire Denver to take a very serious hard look at how its detectives are seeking warrants,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein told FOX31 when asked what they hope to accomplish with the lawsuit.

While Staab was the sole defendant named in the lawsuit, Silverstein said more may be added as the case moves forward.

“We cherish Mom. It’s painful to witness how this violation has affected her,” said Ms. Johnson’s son Greg Brunson in a news release. “She’s still hurting. She still doesn’t understand why this happened to her. And after everything, she still hasn’t gotten as much as an apology from the police.”  

The Denver Police Department issued the following statement to FOX31 on the incident:

The Department of Public Safety and Denver Police Department (DPD) sincerely apologize to Ms. Johnson for any negative impacts this situation may have had on her. SWAT was involved in the execution of the warrant due to allegations that six guns had been stolen and may have been located in Ms. Johnson’s home. Once Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas was made aware of concerns expressed by Ms. Johnson’s family regarding the warrant, the Department reached out to the family. We hope to continue to work with Ms. Johnson’s family through her attorneys to resolve this matter without further litigation. Chief Thomas has also ordered that an internal investigation be opened and DPD is working with the Denver District Attorney’s office to develop additional training for officers and assistant district attorneys related to seeking warrants based upon “find my phone” applications.

Jay Casillas, Spokesman for the Denver Police Department