ACLU of Colorado files lawsuit against Colorado Springs police, FBI

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court against the Colorado Springs Police Department and the FBI claims that officers executed unjustified search warrants against a nonprofit agency and a woman who attended a housing rights march.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed the complaint in U.S. District Court on behalf of the Chinook Center and Jacqueline “Jax” Armendariz Unzueta, according to an ACLU news release.

“The lawsuit alleges the City of Colorado Springs and its officers obtained unjustified search warrants for the private Facebook messages of the Chinook Center and all of Ms. Armendariz Unzueta’s personal devices, including her cell phone, laptop, and external hard drives,” according to the release. “The warrants failed to comply with foundational constitutional requirements intended to safeguard privacy and are especially important in the digital age.”

In July of 2021, during a housing rights march in Colorado Springs in which Armendariz Unzueta and Chinook Center members participated, police arrested activists for marching in the street and other minor violations.

Police used minor criminal charges as the basis to execute dragnet search warrants, and the FBI aided police “to search and copy the complete contents of Armendariz Unzueta’s personal devices they had seized.”

Investigators lacked probable cause and violated the plaintiffs’ rights under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable search and seizures by the government,” the release said.

“Our Constitution recognized the profound danger that these types of warrants would have on freedom and liberty and precluded them,” said Tim Macdonald, ACLU of Colorado legal director, in the release. “Unless called to account in this lawsuit, the police could seize and search the phones and devices of anyone in our community.”

Police executed a warrant to copy the phones and devices of Armendariz Unzueta “in their entirety and search them for evidence of her political views, her political associations, and her relationship with the Chinook Center,” according to the complaint. “There was no probable cause for this search and it was not limited to a search for any particular evidence.”

The lawsuit, which seeks a trial by jury, asks for an injunctive relief ordering CSPD to return or destroy all copies of Armendariz’s digital devices and all files of information extracted from those devices in its possession or control.

“This case is about love for my community. I hope CSPD will never again target, terrorize, and attempt to silence others as they did to me,” said Armendariz Unzueta, in the release.

The Chinook Center suffered actual damages, for which it seeks nominal compensation as well as punitive damages, according to the complaint.

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