A Colorado family whose house was destroyed in a 19-hour standoff between police and an armed shoplifter is not entitled to any compensation from the department that rendered them homeless, an appeals court has ruled.
Police who deployed explosives and armored vehicles to flush out a man –who’d stolen two belts and a shirt from a Greenwood Village Walmart– from the house of Leo and Alfonsia Lech, are not required to compensate the couple for destroying their home, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday.
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“It just goes to show that they can blow up your house, throw you out on the streets and say, ‘See you later. Deal with it,’” Leo Lech told the Washington Post, in an interview after the shock ruling.
What happened to us should never happen in this country, ever.
The Lechs sued after the city gave them just $5,000 to cover the expense of being rendered homeless in 2015. The house was condemned –rebuilding it cost almost $400,000, Leo claimed– and such a tiny sum fobbed off as compensation “was insulting.” But in 2018, a judge sided with the police, deeming the damage justified. Tuesday’s ruling, by a panel of three judges, affirmed that decision.
A shoplifter with no relation to the Lechs, Jonathan Seacat, randomly selected their house as his hideout as he fled from police on June 3, 2015. When police first entered the home, he shot through the floor at them, inspiring them to bring in the heavy artillery. Over the course of the next 19 hours, police rammed the house repeatedly with an armored Bearcat vehicle and used explosives – including 72 chemical bombs and gas grenades – to gain access to the suspect.
But, because their home was destroyed in the course of a police raid, the judges ruled, the Lechs were not entitled to compensation under the “takings clause” – the constitutional requirement that the government pay property owners for land it confiscates, usually under eminent domain. After all, the property was destroyed in the course of “law enforcement” – the police acted “to preserve the safety of the public” when they all but demolished the Lechs’ home to arrest a shoplifter, according to the court.
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“We…reject the Lechs’ assertion that the police power does not encompass the state’s ability to seize property from an innocent owner,” Judge Nancy Moritz wrote in her decision affirming the 2018 ruling, insisting “the defendants’ actions benefited the public.”
The state should not be required to pay for property damages incurred in the act of keeping the public safe, lest the threat of hefty compensation stop them from performing their duties, Moritz continued.
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