A federal court ruled on Tuesday that it was constitutional for police to destroy a Greenwood Village man’s home and offer no compensation.
Leo Lech and his family filed a lawsuit against the city and multiple officers following a 2015 incident in which a shoplifter with felony warrants broke in to the Lechs’ house, barricaded himself inside and fired upon responding officers. For five hours, the officers attempted to induce the suspect to give himself up.
When that failed, they fired into the home, broke down the doors, used explosives and deployed an armed vehicle to punch holes in the house.
The entire operation lasted 19 hours.
Greenwood Village offered temporary housing assistant to Lech and his family, but denied liability for the damage.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the police’s actions did not violate the Fifth Amendment, which mandates that private property shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Exercise of police powers, Judge Nancy L. Moritz wrote, is not the same thing as eminent domain — the typical but controversial compulsory purchase of private property by governments.
The Lechs argued that they should not “bear alone the cost of actions the defendants undertook in an effort to ‘apprehend a criminal suspect’ — actions that were clearly ‘for the benefit of the public’ as a whole.”
Moritz agreed that the police action had a public benefit, but concluded that police cannot be burdened with compensating property owners for any damage incurred while enforcing the laws.
The Denver Post reported that the Lechs’ insurance paid $345,000, which was less than the $580,000 appraised cost of the home and the possessions inside.
The city also paid a neighbor $2,000, even though the operation caused approximately $70,000 of damage on that home.
“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,” said Rachel Maxam, an attorney for the Lechs.
The plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision to the entire 10th Circuit.