Court Rules Police Don't Have To Pay For Home Destroyed During SWAT Standoff
Greenwood Village, CO – A federal appeals court has ruled that the police department is not responsible for compensating the owners of a home they destroyed while chasing a fugitive.
Leo Lech’s Greenwood Village home was destroyed on June 3, 2015 when an armed fugitive broke in to hide from police, the Denver Post reported.
Aurora police officers had been trying to find Robert Seacat earlier in the day and then the Greenwood Village Police Department was notified of a burglar alarm going off at Lech’s home in the 4200-block of South Alton Street, KUSA reported.
The lawsuit filed by Lech against Greenwood Village and its police force said all of the family members were safely out of the home before what turned into a crazy 19-hour standoff began.
Seacat, who was wanted on multiple felony warrants, hunkered down in the house and fired at least one shot at the officers outside, the Denver Post reported.
Police tried to negotiate with the suspect for five hours but Seacat could not be persuaded to surrender.
He fired multiple shots at SWAT officers when they ultimately entered the house, the Denver Post reported.
The standoff continued until police fired multiple rounds of gas munitions into the home, used explosives to create sightlines and points of entry, and ultimately drove a Bearcat armored vehicle through the home's doors.
Lech’s lawsuit claimed that by the time SWAT officers took Seacat into custody, his home had been rendered uninhabitable, the Denver Post reported.
All of the family’s belongings had been destroyed and tear gas canisters remained lodged in the walls of the house. Family members found drugs belonging to Seacat in the rubble and debris.
The Greenwood Village police offered Lech $5,000 to cover temporary living expenses but said it wasn’t responsible for the holes the SWAT officers had blown through the walls, nor any of the other damage caused during the barricade incident, according to the Denver Post.
So Lech filed a lawsuit in 2016.
Much to his surprise, the federal district court in Denver determined that the police department was not responsible for the damage they had done to Lech’s home, the Denver Post reported.
Lech appealed the ruling, and on Tuesday, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision.
The court said the government must pay for property seized under eminent domain but that police departments cannot be held responsible for property destroyed during the pursuit of enforcing the law, the Denver Post reported.
“The bottom line is that destroying somebody’s home and throwing them out in the street by a government agency for whatever circumstances is not acceptable in a civilized society,” Lech said after the decision was announced.
Lech’s own insurance company only paid the family $345,000 for destroyed home, which had to be built again from the ground up.
The amount fell far short of the home’s appraised value of $580,000 and didn’t begin to cover the cost of replacing the contents, the Denver Post reported.
“It’s a miracle insurance covered any of it in the first place,” Rachel Maxam, one of Lech’s attorneys, said. “Insurance is for fires, floods. There’s no ‘police blew up my house’ insurance.”
Lech ended up having to take out a $600,000 mortgage to rebuild. And construction took two years.
“It destroyed our lives completely,” he said. “The way we were treated is barbaric. The whole thing is a debacle of epic proportions.”
The SWAT standoff also did $70,000 in damage to the next-door-neighbor’s house, the Denver Post reported.
Their insurance refused to cover the damage and Greenwood Village only offered $2,000 in compensation to that family.
Greenwood Village has maintained their police officers acted “in a highly commendable manner” to end the standoff, the Denver Post reported.
“The Courts, both State and Federal who have analyze this matter, have consistently ruled in favor of the police actions taken to resolve this critical incident,” the village said in a statement. “The Courts have recognized that while these types of events present difficult questions, the police should value life over property and may act pursuant to their police powers accordingly.”
Lech and his attorneys plan to appeal the decision to the full panel of the appeals court, and then on to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, the Denver Post reported.
“This is happening all around the country because police have equipment from the military, so they decided this is the way to do things and typically the suspect does not survive it,” Maxam said.
Lech told the Denver Post he wanted legislators to step in and address the problem.
“There’s going to be other families that are going to fall victim to this,” he said. “It’s inevitable.”