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No compensation for family after police destroy home, court rules

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Posted at 8:36 PM, Nov 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-03 21:41:26-05

A family whose Greenwood Village, Colorado home was destroyed by police after an armed suspect took refuge inside it and refused to come out won't get compensation from the city for their losses, according to a ruling from the 10th Circuit Appeals Court.

John Lech lived at the home with his girlfriend and her 9-year-old son when on June 3, 2015, officers from the Greenwood Village police department responded to a burglar alarm at the home.

All family members made it safely outside, but investigators learned that Robert Seacat, who was attempting to evade capture by the Aurora Police Department, was inside the randomly chosen home and refused to come out.

For nearly 19 hours, law enforcement worked to get Seacat out of the house. They fired several rounds of gas munition into the home, breached the home’s doors with a BearCat armored vehicle, and used explosives to create sightlines and points of entry to the home, according to the lawsuit.

When those efforts failed, officers used the BearCat to open multiple holes in the home and deployed a tactical team to apprehend Seacat. In the end, the home was uninhabitable.

The city offered to pay for temporary housing but did not pay for the extensive damage, and when they didn't, the Lech family filed a lawsuit in U.S District Court. Lech's attorney argued Greenwood Village needed to pay him back because of a clause in the constitution that says the government can't take private property without just compensation.

"Under absolutely no circumstances should a government agency be allowed to blow up somebody’s home, throw them out in the street, render them homeless and just walk away from it in any civilized society," said Leo Lech, who bought the house for his son. "What happened to us is third-world by any stretch of the imagination. It’s completely third-world."

The case went to federal court where the judge ruled in the city's favor and said there was an exception for emergencies.

That decision was appealed to the 10th circuit court. Oral arguments were heard in August and the ruling was issued Tuesday. The ruling affirms the lower court ruling that damage was the result of "police power" and not the result of eminent domain power.

"It’s absolutely not surprising at all," Leo Lech said. "It’s just extremely disappointing. It’s actually heartbreaking that something like this can occur in the United States of America."

Police power allows them to "regulate private property for the protection of public health, safety and welfare". It applied in this case since the damage was done during efforts to detain an armed man who had fired at officers.

The ruling also noted that the "innocence of the owner does not factor into the determination."

Leo Lech said he and his family are considering trying to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. While the nation's highest court only takes a small percentage of the cases presented to it, Robinson said this case is a relatively unique set of facts involving a part of the Constitution that hasn't gotten a lot of attention by the Court.

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