City doesn't Owe Homeowners Compensation for Cops Destroying Home, Court says
A Colorado police chief insists his officers were only trying to keep the public safe when they destroyed a family’s home with explosives in order to arrest a shoplifting suspect who had taken refuge in the house to escape police, sparking a 19-hour standoff with police.
And a federal appeals court ruled this week the department is under no obligation to repay the family for destroying the home, even though the family had never met the suspect before the June 2015 incident.
The family sued after the Greenwood Village Police Department offered to pay them $5,000 for their troubles even though the family says repairs have cost them more than $400,000 so far since the 2015 incident left them homeless.
But the family vows to continue fighting until their case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Under no circumstances in this country should the government be able to blow up your house and render a family homeless," the owner of the home, Leo Lech, told NPR. "This family was thrown out into the street without any recourse.”
But Greenwood Village Police Commander Dustin Varney stands by his department’s decision to destroy the suburban home for the sake of safety.
"My mission is to get that individual out unharmed and make sure my team and everyone else around including the community goes home unharmed," Varney told 9news in 2015.
"Sometimes that means property gets damaged, and I am sorry for that.
In siding with the boys in blue, a federal appeals court in Denver ruled on Tuesday that police shouldn’t live in fear of compensating bystanders negatively affected by their efforts to make arrests, which throws Lech’s Fifth Amendment Taking Clause argument out the window.
"There needs to be a line drawn for what police departments can do and what they need to do to compensate citizens for this kind of damage," Lech said. "I didn't want to sue anyone for millions. I just wanted fair market value for my house."
The incident took place on June 3, 2015 when Greenwood Village police were dispatched to a local Walmart for a parking issue at the retail giant but their loss prevention team asked an officer to look into a man who was caught on camera hiding stolen goods in a cart full of items already paid for by another woman.
Officer Reiter tried to walk the thief back into Walmart, but Seacat was able to make a run for it, reaching his car and narrowly evading the cop’s taser. After attempting to hit Reiter with his gold Lexus, Seacat sped off and out of the parking lot but soon abandoned his car at a train station.
After unsuccessful attempts to hitchhike with strangers, Seacat found himself in the backyard of Leo Lech’s home which was being rented out to his son, his girlfriend and their 9-year-old son.
Seacat tripped the backdoor and garage entry door alarm causing officers to check out the scene, but it wasn’t long until the Greenwood Village police figured out this was the same man Aurora officers were looking for.
John Lech and Anna Mumzhiyan’s nine-year-old son was the only one in the house at the time, but Seacat let him go without harm. According to the police report, Seacat didn’t want to hurt the boy, he just “needed a vehicle to escape.”
While the standoff with police ensued, including explosives and tear gas being thrown into Lech’s home, Seacat was apparently having the time of his life in the home, eating the family’s food, taking a shower, and even napping. Not to mention stashing copious amounts of meth, which would explain why he was so eager to get away from the cops.
In a desperate attempt to get Seacat out of there, Greenwood Village police went as far as driving a military-styled armored vehicle through the house’s doors.
Cops were finally able to get Seacat out of the house, but not before completely obliterating Lech’s home.
"The interior of the Lech Home was a mass of debris and destroyed belongings from the projectiles launched into the home by the Defendants. Chemical munitions or other projectiles were stuck in the walls. The Lech Home was completely uninhabitable and its condition posed a danger to anyone entering the home," Lech’s attorney David Williams wrote in a federal lawsuit filed in 2016.
Greenwood Village offered to pay Lech and Mumzhiyan $5,000 to help ease the transition of finding a new place to live, but unsurprisingly, they wouldn’t accept it. Instead, the couple opted to sue the city to help cover the $400,000 it cost to rebuild their home.
A spokeswoman for the city of Greenwood Village, sent NPR a statement stating the damages done to the house were necessary and went as far as blaming the homeowners’ debt from the chaos on them.
"What Mr. Lech also failed to tell you was that he chose on his own to demolish the house rather than repair it, repour the foundation that wasn't damaged and built a bigger better house where the old one stood," Melissa Gallegos wrote. She even included a picture of Lech's rebuilt home, probably in an attempt to say, “they could have built a shed for much less. What’s with all the windows?”
"Whether you call it eminent domain [the right for the government to use private property with compensation] or whatever, you can't be blowing up people's houses," Lech added.
Despite the $28,000 in legal fees it has already cost to sue Greenwood Village to no avail, Lech says he’ll continue until his case reaches the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Seacat is serving a 100-year sentence after his conviction last year for his actions that day that led to the destruction of the home.