SALT LAKE CITY — A federal appeals court won't revive an excessive-force lawsuit from the family of a Utah doctor who killed himself after his arrest by federal agents in an artifact looting investigation, according to a ruling handed down Monday.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management didn't use excessive force when armed agents dressed in body armor arrested James Redd in 2009. The judges declined to overturn a lower-court decision that tossed the lawsuit after a judge found the presence of federal agents in SWAT-like gear wasn't unreasonable.
The artifact lootings raid in Blanding marked an early flashpoint in the struggle over control of public lands in the western United States
Redd's family had argued it was unfair to overwhelm Redd at gunpoint, even though there was no evidence he was violent or posed a threat.
The Redds are disappointed in Monday's ruling, though they're still pursuing a separate lawsuit seeking damages in his death, the family's attorney, Shandor S. Badaruddin, said. He said he wasn't immediately sure if they'd appeal again.
Redd's daughter said at least 50 officers showed up in an excessive show of force, though the Bureau of Land Management said it was less than half that number.
Federal lawyers for Dan Love, the federal agent who led the operation, said he needed the agents to collect large amounts of evidence and be prepared for hostility because people in the town have historically been opposed to federal public land control.
Redd, who maintained his innocence, was charged with one felony count of theft of Indian tribal property — an effigy bird pendant valued at $1,000. He and his wife were among 24 people indicted after a two-year federal investigation that relied on a well-connected artifacts dealer-turned-undercover-operative.
Agents raided homes of 16 people in Blanding, including a math teacher and brother of the local sheriff in June 2009.
Most were handcuffed and shackled as agents confiscated stone pipes, woven sandals, spear and arrow heads, seed jars and decorated pottery. Prosecutors said those involved stole, received or tried to sell Native American artifacts.
Redd killed himself a day after the raid. Another suspect and the informant who helped government officials also killed themselves.
The events triggered outcry from many southern Utah residents who said federal officials were heavy-handed and overzealous. It remains a point of contention for people in the town, many of whom are also frustrated by the creation of the nearby Bears Ears National Monument.