SALT LAKE CITY — The widow of a Blanding doctor who killed himself after being arrested in an American Indian artifacts trafficking sting contends the federal agencies that conducted the raid caused his death.
Jeanne H. Redd filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday against a dozen agents with the Bureau of Land Management and the FBI, claiming they pushed her husband, James D. Redd, to suicide.
Federal agents armed with semi-automatic weapons arrested the Redds along with 22 others June 10, 2009, after a two-year undercover operation in the Four Corners area of southern Utah.
"The next day, June 11, 2009, reflecting on the excessive, overreaching and abusive treatment he had been subjected to, after making a recording based upon his tragic experience, Dr. Redd took his own life. His final words connected his death to the defendants' egregious actions," according to the 31-page suit filed in U.S. District Court.
Redd, 60, asphyxiated himself by connecting a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car. Two others associated with the case also committed suicide.
Jeanne Redd is represented by Montana attorney Edward Moriarty, who worked as a partner with famed Wyoming attorney Gerry Spence for 30 years. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount for emotional and punitive damages.
FBI spokeswoman Debbie Bertram declined to comment on the lawsuit or any aspect of the undercover investigation. Calls to the BLM were not returned.
Federal prosecutors charged James Redd with one felony count of theft of tribal property, specifically an effigy bird pendant.
Redd found the quarter-inch-long relic while on a family walk. "Little did he know, federal agents inebriated with power and acting with no remorse, would use this shell to attempt to justify the arrest of Dr. Redd for a felony, ultimately shattering the sanctity of his life," the lawsuit states.
The suit lambastes what the BLM and FBI dubbed Operation Cerberus Action as overkill. In Greek mythology, Cerberus is a three-headed dog that guards the underworld.
BLM and FBI agents conspired "to do what it takes to protect the gates of the underworld and to violate whatever constitutional rights that may have existed in Greek or Roman mythology, and for sure in the Untied States of America in 2009," the lawsuit states.
The agencies, according to the suit, paid a "down and out on his luck" Blanding artifacts dealer, Ted Gardiner, $7,500 a month to act as a confidential informant. Based on Gardiner's story, authorities misperceived artifacts dealing as a chronic problem in the Four Corners area, the suit says.
During the investigation, Gardiner paid $335,685 for 256 Native American items. He later committed suicide.
The costs demanded that investigators make as many arrests and gain as much publicity as possible, according to the suit.
Of the 24 people arrested in the raid — including Redd's wife, Jeanne Redd, and daughter Jerica Redd — 18 have reached plea agreements with federal prosecutors. All of them were placed on probation. Another of those defendants, Steven L. Schrader, of Durango, Colo., also took his own life.
A federal judge last month terminated the remaining 18 months and six months, respectively, of probation for Jeanne Redd and Jerica Redd. Both had paid fines in full and had complied with all conditions of their probation, according to court records.
Shortly after the arrests, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett said agents went overboard in their show of force. Utah's top two federal law enforcement officials at the time, U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and FBI Special Agent in Charge Timothy Fuhrman, said agents acted professionally in executing search warrants and handling defendants.
Redd, a father of five children, is described in the suit as a religious man and a linchpin in the southeastern town of Blanding. He was well-liked in the Mormon and Native American communities, according to the suit.
As the town's only doctor for much of 30 years, everyone knew him. "He had birthed their babies, performed their surgeries and saved their grandchildren."
Jeanne Redd claims in the suit that agents "manhandled" her husband and interrogated him for hours in the garage. The "physical and psychological assault" on him focused on his family, religion, profession and community.
According to the suit, "They intended to use his goals to try to get him to admit to a crime he did not commit using his own fears as their weapon of choice knowing that their weapon was deadly."