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A federal judge on Friday threw out the remaining pieces of a long-running excessive-force suit the family of James Redd brought against the federal agents who led the 2009 raids of suspected artifacts traffickers in Blanding.
Redd, a prominent physician, took his life the day following his interrogation and arrest at the hands of Special Agent Dan Love of the Bureau of Land Management. U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby found that Redd's family failed to show sufficient evidence that agents violated Redd's constitutional rights.
In a federal suit, the Redds blamed the BLM's show of force, involving dozens of armed officers, and Redd's humiliating and prolonged questioning by Love, now the BLM's agent in charge for Utah and Nevada, in the Redds' garage.
Redd's widow, Jeanne Redd, filed the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of her husband's estate, alleging paramilitary agents confronted her husband at gunpoint when he arrived home on the morning of the raids and subjected him to "inhumane and unjust acts."
Redd's suicide was one of three connected with Operation Cerberus, which led to two-dozen arrests and the seizure of thousands of artifacts, including 800 at the Redd home. His death was deeply mourned in Blanding and has been a continuing source of animosity toward the BLM, which administers most of the land in San Juan County.
While the Redds and their supporters have claimed that dozens of heavily armed agents swarmed their Blanding home, the evidence paints a more nuanced picture. Just 22 officers came to the Redd home during the 3 1/2 hours Redd was there. Many carried only handguns, as per their agencies' standard practices, and two were unarmed archaeologists, according to federal attorneys. Redd arrived home at 7 a.m. on June 10, and was taken away under arrest at 10:34 a.m.
A SWAT team, equipped with body armor and automatic rifles, arrived later, but that was in response to two "threatening" messages Redd's son left on an answering machine.
In his 27-page ruling, Shelby tried to put himself in the shoes of both Redd and Love and did find that Redd posed no threat to the officers.
"Dr. Redd was an aged and respected community physician with no known history of violence," Shelby wrote. "No evidence shows that Dr. Redd or anyone else at the home resisted arrest or attempted to evade the agents in any way. To the contrary, both Dr. Redd and his wife were arrested without incident."
But Shelby wrote that the presence of agents attired in tactical gear and weapons is not in and of itself excessive force that would have violated Redd's Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted search and seizure.
"Under the totality of circumstances," Love's conduct was reasonable, the judge concluded.
"The estate has not offered evidence showing Agent Love deployed the 22 agents knowing the agents would use excessive force. Nor has the estate shown Agent Love deployed the agents intending to cause any harm to Dr. Redd or his family. And the estate has likewise failed to put forth evidence establishing that Agent Love instructed the team of agents to use excessive force while executing the warrants," Shelby wrote.
Evidence suggests 13 officers were present at the time of Redd's arrival, but some were interviewing other members of the family who were also suspects. Love did summon nine others while Redd was present in the home, but they were needed to help search the home and catalogue the hundreds of artifacts that were found.
The Redd family's wrongful death action against the BLM and FBI is pending before another Utah federal judge. That case alleges Love and his associates, including an undercover operative, trumped up a charge against Redd by fraudulently inflating the value of a tiny bird effigy pendant Redd was seen exhibiting in a secretly recorded video.
The family says Redd legally found the effigy, smaller than a dime, and it was worth about $75. Under such facts, he should not have been charged, according to his son Jay.
"He had nothing to do with artifacts or trading. He was walking along and picks up this dinky bead off the ground. They are laughing about it because it's so insignificant. The whole thing is two minutes long," Jay Redd said in a recent interview. "He never tries to sell or trade anything. He wasn't arrested for trafficking; it was for possessing. Dr. Redd is dead for possessing a tiny little bead. My dad is dead for a false felony charge."
Brian Maffly covers public lands for Salt Lake Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8713. Twitter: @brianmaffly