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Federal attorneys on Thursday sought dismissal of a wrongful-death claim in the case of a Blanding doctor who killed himself after his arrest on artifact-trafficking charges.
In what amounted to James Redd's posthumous day in court, U.S. Department of Justice attorney Deepthy Kishore argued that the Redd family's claims of constitutional violations including excessive force were unfounded, especially given that his wife, Jeanne Redd, went on to plead guilty in the case.
Redd family attorney Shandor Badaruddin countered that the government never even proved that the artifact in question an ancient American Indian bird effigy was looted from public lands. Arguing that an undercover operative inflated the price he paid to entrap the Redds in a felony, he said the government likewise never proved the effigy was worth the $1,000 offered for it.
"The problem with that argument," U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart told Badaruddin, "is that one of your clients pleaded guilty that it was valued in excess of $1,000, and that it came from public land."
Badaruddin said it's irrelevant what Jeanne Redd accepted in her plea deal because her husband never had his say. "James Redd should have a chance to contest these allegations," the attorney said.
The Redds were arrested in 2009 as part of an operation that busted two-dozen people in the Four Corners region most of them from San Juan County for looting or trafficking artifacts from public or tribal lands. Most, including Jeanne Redd, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation.
Stewart already has dismissed a case against individual federal agents for alleged constitutional violations, because he said the plaintiffs had not proved which agents plotted the alleged excessive force that involved dozens of agents, or Redd's handcuffing and alleged four-hour interrogation in his garage.
On Thursday, though, the judge agreed with Badaruddin that no such identification of individual action was necessary in a wrongful-death case that names the United States, the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Land Management as defendants. He took the government's motion to dismiss under advisement.
The Redds seek damages for a death they claim was brought on by emotional distress caused by unconstitutional actions during the arrest. Their complaint alleges excessive force involving officers brandishing weapons and throwing James Redd to the ground, unreasonable search and seizure of items unrelated to the charges, and use of false information to obtain a search warrant that hinged on an inflated price for the effigy.
While not conceding that agents intentionally inflated the price beyond the $500 needed for a felony conviction in federal artifact-protection law, Kishore said everything the officers did, including setting the price, was within their legal discretion.