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Police used an AirPod tracking app to find carjackers. It led them to an innocent family

A still from body cam footage of officers entering the Ferguson home.
Courtesy of Bevis Schock/Riverfront Times
A still from bodycam footage of officers entering the Ferguson home.

A pair of stolen AirPods led St. Louis County police to a home in Ferguson in May 2023. Members of a SWAT team used a battering ram to enter and then ransacked the home, terrifying a mother and two young children.

The raid has now led to a lawsuit. Filed Friday, the suit alleges that the SWAT team used a tracking app called FindMy to trace a pair of AirPods that were left inside a stolen vehicle, the Riverfront Times reported.

The AirPods were recovered in the street outside the home. The app, in error, showed them inside the family’s home. Police followed the app, the lawsuit alleges.

Despite the fact that police force was deployed against an innocent family, the officers’ actions may not be illegal. On St. Louis on the Air’s Legal Roundtable, attorney Nicole Gorovsky, a former prosecutor, noted that the warrant can answer key questions about what police knew — and what they may have fabricated — to justify the raid.

“Did [police] say that they had some knowledge that this FindMy iPhone app was more accurate than it actually was? Did they say that it meant that the AirPods at issue were actually in the house?” she said. “I am so curious about what this search warrant actually says.”

The raid was filmed on body cameras. Officers knocked holes in the walls and ceiling, searching for guns and evidence related to the carjacking.

Even though they found nothing while wrecking the home, Dave Roland, an attorney and director of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri, cautioned that the family faces a serious legal challenge in proving that the officers knew they were raiding the wrong home.

“We ought to have a much higher standard before you send a SWAT team into any home, regardless of the quality of the information,” Roland said. “But I think that, fortunately for this family, it doesn't seem that there were any physical injuries other than the damage to their house.”

Along with Nicole Gorovsky and David Roland, the discussion featured Eric Banks, a former city counselor for St. Louis and an attorney and mediator at Banks Law. The panel also talked about the case of a white professor suing St. Louis’ historically Black university for racial discrimination, an attempt by Missouri’s Republican Party to stop an “honorary” Ku Klux Klan member from running as a GOP candidate for governor, and more.

To hear the full discussion and analysis by the Legal Roundtable, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

Legal Roundtable: SWAT raid, KKK on the ballot, more

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."