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The widow of a Blanding doctor who took his own life in the wake of a 2009 artifacts trafficking bust has filed a wrongful death suit against the federal agents involved in the raid.

In the suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, James D. Redd's widow claims Bureau of Land Management and FBI agents pushed her husband to commit suicide because of the "excessive, overreaching and abusive treatment he had been subjected to."

The lawsuit states: "His final words connected his death to the defendants' egregious actions." It does not quote those words, but says they were in a recording he made for his family before he used a hose to asphyxiate himself with exhaust from his vehicle.

The 60-year-old Redd, his wife, Jeanne Redd, and his daughter, Jericca Redd, were among 24 people arrested in "Operation CERBERUS Action," a two-year undercover operation aimed at the illegal trafficking of American-Indian artifacts in the Four Corners area.

James Redd killed himself on June 11, 2009, one day after being accused of illegally possessing a "bird effigy pendant" worth $1,000. The threshold for felony charges in an antiquities case is a value of $500. The lawsuit disputes the government's value for the item and claims agents never found it when searching Redd's home.

The effigy was a quarter-inch piece of shell he had picked up on a family walk in the desert, the suit claims.

"Little did he know, federal agents inebriated with power and acting with no remorse, would use this shell to attempt to justify the arrest of Dr. Redd — for a felony — ultimately shattering the sanctity of his life," Montana attorney Edward Moriarty wrote in the lawsuit.

Jeanne Redd, who in the 1990s had paid a fine for state charges surrounding her collection of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts, pleaded guilty to seven felonies in the CERBERUS case. She forfeited more than 800 artifacts, including items not related to her crimes. Court papers showed human teeth, finger bones and other remains were among items forfeited.

Jericca Redd pleaded guilty to three felonies for digging up a seed jar on the Navajo Reservation. Although the government sought 18 months for Jeanne Redd, a federal judge sentenced both women to probation and last month ended their terms early. Jeanne Redd paid a $2,000 fine and her daughter paid $300.

More than half of the defendants in the artifacts trafficking case have pleaded guilty and been placed on probation.

Jeanne Redd's suit names more than a dozen BLM and FBI agents, and accuses them of constitutional violations, including unlawful detainment and unreasonable search and seizure.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on the case Saturday, as did a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City. Attempts to reach the BLM were not immediately successful.

The suit claims roughly 80 armed agents descended on Redd's Blanding home in an effort to make an example of a prominent community figure. The agents "terrified" and "humiliated" Redd, threatening his medical license and standing in the community, according to the claim.

"The defendants were aware of the physical and psychological impact of their assault on Dr. Redd, knowing that his life focused on his family, his religion, his profession, and his community," the lawsuit states. "They intended to use his goals to try to get him to admit to a crime he did not commit using his own fears as their weapon of choice, knowing that their weapon was deadly."

The lawsuit refers to Blanding as a "Mormon enclave" and notes historical tensions between the Utah church and the federal government dating back to the 19th-century "Utah War," in which federal troops were sent to install a non-Mormon territorial governor. Given that history, the lawsuit claims, "it's no surprise the defendants were fervent to bust a prominent member of the Mormon community. Dr. Redd was such an ideal icon."

Retired BLM and Justice Department officials who have worked antiquities cases in Utah told The Tribune that it is common practice to use a show of force sufficient to discourage resistance and ensure agents' safety. After the raids, officials said they had known that some suspects had guns.

The lawsuit accuses the BLM and FBI of telling an undercover informant, Ted Gardiner, to drive up prices when buying artifacts to increase the penalties from misdemeanors to felonies.

Gardiner was paid $224,000 as an informant, according to the lawsuit, and recorded the transactions.

Many of those indicted were sentenced to probation. Another defendant, Steven Shrader, of Santa Fe, N.M., committed suicide in 2009. Several months later, the informant Gardiner also took his own life.

Tribune reporter Brandon Loomis contributed to this report. —

The case against Jeanne Redd

Jeanne Redd pleaded guilty to seven felonies in "Operation CERBERUS Action": two counts of violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, two counts of theft of government property and three counts of theft of American Indian tribal property. Each charge carried potential fines of $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

Jericca Redd admitted to three felonies for digging up a seed jar, a vase and a pottery vessel April 8, 2008, on the Navajo Reservation.

The Redds were sentenced to three years of supervised probation in September 2009. Last month, a judge ended their probation terms early.