Two courts have agreed, the city and police have no legal obligation to pay.
In 2015, a Greenwood Village home was the site of a police standoff and shootout, leaving the home severely damaged. The homeowner sued, and the case made it all the way to the Federal Appeals Court. The case became an issue of determining if the home was used under the power of eminent domain or was used in the course of "police power".
What Happened to the Home?
On June 3, 2015, police responded to a burglar alarm at the home of John Lech, located at 4219 South Alton Street. An armed shoplifting suspect had entered the home, barricading himself inside as he ran from the Aurora Police Department. What ensued was an 18-hour-long standoff involving a shootout, the SWAT team, and armored vehicles.
The suspect, Robert Seacat, was wanted for shoplifting and had felony arrest warrants on his head. Lech's girlfriend's son was home alone at the time of the break-in and, luckily, was able to leave unharmed before the standoff began.
Per the case file, what followed was equitable to a scene from a Hollywood movie; officers parked vehicles to restrict access out of the home and Seacat fired at them. Officers then deemed the situation high-risk and things escalated from there. A five-hour negotiation ensued, butSeacat did not surrender. More aggressive tactics began, officers fired gas munition rounds into the home, used a Bearcat armored vehicle to breach the doors of the residence, in order to send in a robot with a phone, and used explosives to create better lines of sight and additional points of entry.
After nearly 19 hours, the officers used the Bearcat to puncture more holes in the residence's walls, before deploying a tactical team and successfully apprehending the suspect.
Courtesy of Crime Watch Daily (Facebook)
The home was left virtually destroyed, uninhabitable and with most of the family’s belongings also rendered unusable or damaged. The City of Greenwood Village extended an offer to assist the family with temporary housing costs, however, denied further responsibility and liability for the destruction of the home. The property was condemned and Lech was left responsible for the reconstruction costs. Though he was able to receive some funds form his insurance company, it was not enough to cover all of the damages. The city paid $5,000 in temporary housing costs, no further compensation was offered.
This video below, shared by Crime Watch Daily at the time of the police standoff, shows some of the active scene and aftermath:
Original Court Case and Ruling
The Lech family took the case to court, seeking compensation and restitution for the damages sustained to their property, and the costs to rebuild. This is where things started to get really complicated, because on the surface it seems straightforward in that an innocent homeowner, whose home was taken over and destroyed in this way, would be entitled to at least the cost of restoring the home to the condition it was in prior to the standoff.
The reality is a bit more complicated, and the state court ruled that the Lechs were owed no compensation as the destruction to their property occurred during action taken by police to ensure the public’s safety (aka police power). The Lechs argued that the home had been taken over by police for public use, a case of eminent domain.
Eminent domain, as explained by Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, is the power of the government to take privately held property for public use. This is covered under the Fifth Amendment, which clarifies that the government can only do so if they provide just compensation to the property owner.
Police power, as defined in the ruling, is the state’s power to use private property in pursuit of protecting the public in matters of safety, health, and welfare.
The court ruled in favor of the defendants, that the police had acted in defense of public safety and bore no responsibility to compensate the homeowner.
Court of Appeals
Due to the ruling at the state level, Lech then decided to take the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. The Court of Appeals ruled on the case on October 29, 2019, and upheld the decision made by the lower court. They, too, ruled that the case did not fall under eminent domain, and that the police had acted to ensure the safety of the public, rather than taking over the home for public use and that, though the damage was significant, the police and City of Greenwood Village were not responsible to pay for repairs.
Lech plans to appeal the decision and take the case to the Supreme Court.
According to 9NEWS, the city said that "while the Lech family was not compensated by the city, their home was insured and they did receive a payout through their homeowner's insurance."
What do you think about the ruling? Sound off in the comments.