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The final elements of the James Redd family's complex wrongful death litigation against the federal government were thrown out of court last week when a judge ruled the Redds have exaggerated the number of armed officers who entered their Blanding home to arrest the physician and his wife as part of a high-profile wave of artifacts-trafficking busts.
Jeanne Redd has clauimed that more than 100 officers, many armed with assault rifles and flak jackets, entered her home on the morning of June 10, 2009, to question her husband and conduct a search that yielded 800 American Indian artifacts. James Redd took his life the following day, one of three suicides associated with the Bureau of Land Management's "Operation Cerberus."
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart concluded that the BLM dispatched just 12 agents to the home, and that an additional 10 arrived during the course of the morning while James Redd was in the garage being interrogated by BLM agent Dan Love and an FBI agent.
"Together, these 22 federal agents did not amount to an unconstitutional showing of force," Stewart wrote in his March 15 order. His findings mirror those of fellow federal jurist Robert Shelby, who in December tossed excessive-force allegations against Love. The family accused Love of manipulating evidence to justify filing a bogus felony artifact possession charge against Redd.
Video shot by an undercover informant shows Redd in possession of a tiny bird pendant that an expert retained by the Redds said could be worth no more than $75. Shelby's ruling is under appeal to the 10th Circuit.
Appeals notwithstanding, Stewart's ruling closes the final legal chapter of the Cerberus saga that resulted in two-dozen arrests and traumatized the southeast Utah town.
Claims that armed agents swarmed the Redd home repeated by Utah's most senior political leaders helped feed the perception that prominent Blanding residents were in the feds' cross-hairs. But Stewart found little reliable evidence to support such claims.
A few dozen officers did come and go from the Redd residence that day, but most arrived after the Redds were taken to Moab to be processed. According to the federal personnel sign-in log, a total of 53 federal personnel, including seven unarmed cultural specialists, had visited by the time the operation concluded.
Yet even if the number of officers far exceeded 22 while Redd was present, such a large contingent was permissible given the circumstances, which included threatening messages left on the Redds' answering machine, Stewart wrote. Use of flak vests is standard procedure for officers making felony arrests.
"The presence of over 800 artifacts required the assistance of additional agents to help catalog and inventory the items. Therefore, it was not unreasonable to have as many as 50 agents engaged in conducting the search on Dr. Redd's residence," the judge wrote.