The actions of the CSPD and the FBI violated the First and Fourth Amendment rights of plaintiffs Jacqueline “Jax” Armendariz Unzueta and Chinook Center
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – ACLU of Colorado lawyers filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Jacqueline “Jax” Armendariz Unzueta, a Colorado Springs resident and activist, and the Chinook Center, a nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs. 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. The warrants failed to comply with foundational constitutional requirements intended to safeguard privacy and are especially important in the digital age.
According to the complaint, in July 2021, during a housing rights march in Colorado Springs in which Armendariz Unzueta and Chinook Center members participated, Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) officers targeted and arrested the activists for marching in the street and other minor violations. CSPD used these minor criminal charges as the basis to execute dragnet search warrants against the plaintiffs. CSPD also enlisted the help of the FBI, another defendant in the case, to search and copy the complete contents of Armendariz Unzueta’s personal devices they had seized.
According to the lawsuit, CSPD did not purport to have probable cause to access Chinook Center’s private information. CSPD’s justification to search and seize Armendariz Unzueta’s devices was completely unrelated to the minor offenses with which she was charged. Instead, it was simply CSPD’s assertion that people use their devices to share pictures and messages. Accepting the CSPD’s actions in this case would eviscerate the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable search and seizures by the government and justify unbounded intrusions into the privacy of anyone associated with someone accused of a crime.
“Our Constitution recognized the profound danger that these types of warrants would have on freedom and liberty and precluded them. Indeed, these types of general warrants were common in the time of King George and helped lead to the American Revolution,” said Tim Macdonald, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “Unless called to account in this lawsuit, the police could seize and search the phones and devices of anyone in our community.”
Fortunately, state and federal Constitutions were intended to prohibit the types of general warrants at issue here, where police search private homes and private data roaming for evidence of unspecified bad acts.
“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 Ms. Armendariz Unzueta. “We cannot let CSPD continue to be arrogant bullies with badges and guns that violate the civil rights of innocent people because of their entrenched — and ignorant — political and racial biases.”
In addition to Macdonald, the legal team includes ACLU of Colorado Senior Staff Attorneys Annie Kurtz and Sara Neel, Legal Director Emeritus Mark Silverstein and ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Jackie Roeder, Theresa Wardon Benz, and Elise Reecer with Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP.