SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge peppered attorneys with questions Thursday that suggested he's struggling to decide if federal agents unleashed excessive force against a southern Utah doctor who killed himself a day after his 2009 arrest in a multistate artifact looting investigation.
During a hearing in Salt Lake City, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby told an attorney for James Redd's family that he doesn't see sufficient evidence to suggest the action taken by federal Bureau of Land Management agents necessarily violated Redd's constitutional rights.
But Shelby also told a Department of Justice attorney representing the agent being sued that the case alarms him, making him consider asking a jury to determine if agents crossed the line during the raid.
Shelby told the parties he would issue a ruling at a later date.
Jeanne Redd filed the wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of her husband's estate in 2011. She said paramilitary agents overwhelmed James Redd, 60, at gunpoint and subjected him to "inhumane and unjust acts." With 18 law enforcement vehicles in his driveway, agents threatened him with the loss of his medical license while asking his wife if she felt suicidal.
Shelby last year dismissed four of five claims in the suit, but he decided there were sufficient facts to move forward with the accusation that Redd's Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
James Redd, who maintained his innocence, was charged with one felony count of theft of Indian tribal property, specifically an effigy bird pendant worth $1,000. The Redds were arrested along with 22 others on June 10, 2009, after a two-year undercover operation in the Four Corners area of southern Utah.
Jeanne Redd pleaded guilty to seven charges related to the theft and sale of artifacts and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Shelby said Thursday that he's only considering what James Redd experienced that day, not what happened to his wife and other family members also at the house. Shelby said the evidence he can consider shows James Redd never saw more than three agents that day, with little proof to back the claim he was subjected to excessive force.
"At this point, I think the record is almost completely barren," Shelby said.
But the Redd family attorney, Shandor Badaruddin, argued that James Redd didn't need to "see them and count them to experience the force."
In regard to the dozens of agents there that day, Shelby said federal officials have shown that there were 120 boxes of evidence that needed to be collected, including 800 artifacts to collect and identify. "There's an explanation now for why you would need so many officers throughout the day," Shelby said.
Badaruddin didn't agree, saying: "There's no need for that many agents."
Shelby acknowledged during his questioning of Department of Justice attorney Laura Smith that he too questions why it was necessary for so many agents, along with black helicopters, to descend upon a Redd family with no history of violence and the small community of Blanding.
Smith defended her client Bureau of Land Management agent Dan Love's action that day, downplaying the notion that there were heavily armed SWAT officers.