Emergency Response

A Denver resident filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against the city for the Denver Police Department's “reckless” operation that resulted in the destruction of her home.

Mary Quintana alleges that Denver “failed to adequately train Denver Police officers in the use of flammable chemical agents,” after officers used chemical tools to arrest a suspect inside her house.

On the morning of Jan. 27, 2019, Quintana writes, officers were dispatched to West 6th Avenue and Inca Street to investigate a report of shots fired. Police discovered that Mary Quintana's son, Joseph, may have been living in the home and they had a warrant for his arrest.

When Mary Quintana arrived home, she said she did not know whether her son was inside. After her other son opened the door for police, they found Joseph Quintana in the basement, where police reports say he shot one of the officers.

Exiting the home, a second officer was allegedly hit by a bullet, whereupon Metro SWAT arrived on the scene and a standoff ensued.

The lawsuit notes that Chief Paul Pazen conducted a press conference during the operation at which he said, “We want safety for everybody, including the person that did this. We want to make sure that we can get them out in a safe manner.”

Reports say that from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., police launched chemical agents and “burn boxes” — ventilated steel containers — into the home. Mary Quintana alleges that they were thrown “randomly…. without any care.”

At approximately 5:30, the house caught fire and a “significant portion” was burned, which Quintana said rendered her homeless. Joseph Quintana had shot himself during the standoff and died the next day.

The Denver Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit alleges that the riot control grenade used within one of the burn boxes was designed for outdoor use only. “The grenade offers coverage for ‘large outdoor areas,’ ” Quintana writes. “The room inside Ms. Quintana’s home where the burn boxes were deployed was neither large nor outdoor.”

She also alleges that police unlawfully detained her for five hours during the SWAT operation.

The lawsuit accuses Denver police of knowing that their officers’ handling of the “burn boxes” was “done heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to consequences.” It characterizes the damage to Quintana’s home as the taking of her property by the government without due process.

For the department’s failure to supervise its officers and its use of excessive force in the operation, Quintana is asking for monetary damages.

The case is Mary Quintana v. City and County of Denver, et al.

This is not the only instance of a homeowner seeking compensation for police destruction of a home. In October 2019, a federal court ruled that a Greenwood Village family did not have their constitutional rights violated when a 2015 SWAT operation used explosives and an armored vehicle to destroy their house to evacuate a fugitive. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit agreed with the argument that the government cannot be "burdened with the condition that the state must compensate [affected property owners] for pecuniary losses they may sustain" in public safety operations.

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