Grandmother awarded $4 million over botched SWAT raid based on Find My iPhone ping

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A 78-year-old Denver resident has been awarded $4 million in damages after a SWAT team raided her home based on a sketchy Find My ping from a stolen iPhone. 

As reported by Fox News, Ruby Johnson was at home watching TV on January 4 “when she heard a loudspeaker blaring outside her home in Denver's Montbello neighborhood.” According to the report, SWAT officers with rifles and a K9 dog unit “ordered anyone in the house to come out with their hands raised.” Johnson left her home in a bathrobe and was asked by police if she had a gun on her. 

The report says police “were looking for a pickup truck and guns that had been stolen the previous day from a Denver hotel parking garage,” and had obtained a warrant to search Johnson’s house “based on pings from the Find My app on an iPhone that had been left” in the truck, which appears to have been parked nearby.

Find my iPhone raid lawsuit 

Officers reportedly entered Johnson’s home, damaging property inside. Now, following a lawsuit, Johnson has been awarded $4 million over the ordeal, which probably shouldn’t have happened in the first place. 

As noted, police obtained a warrant for Johnson’s house based on Find My iPhone pings from a stolen iPhone. However, the lawsuit claims that Detective Gary Staab’s affidavit “included a screenshot of the app with a circle spanning ‘at least six different properties’ where the phone could be.” 

The suit alleges the warrant was improperly obtained because Staab did not mention the limitations of Apple’s Find My technology. While Apple’s best iPhones, the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro, can be located with extreme accuracy thanks to Precision Finding powered by their Ultra Wideband chips, other devices don’t benefit from this tech, and Find My can sometimes be quite broad and unhelpful, as this incident clearly demonstrates. 

Not only did the police raid the wrong house, but they also smashed “a cherished doll figurine customized to look just like Johnson” and used a kitchen broom “to smash up the ceiling so they could search the attic.” They also used a battering ram to break through her front door, despite Johnson telling police where her garage door opener was. 

Apple devices have so many built-in protections and deterrents against theft that sadly these law enforcement mishaps are inevitable. Just last year, a Sydney-based boxing trainer accidentally called 15 armed police to a gym using Apple Watch SOS, after emergency service workers on the line mistook the sound of a punchbag for gunshots. Despite this, there are also plenty of stories of police using Apple’s Find My network to successfully stop crime, tracking down vehicles and stolen property. Apple’s AirTags have taken a prominent role in this since their launch in 2021. 

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Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9