GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — A petition has been to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on behalf of a Greenwood Village man who was not compensated when their home was left uninhabitable after a 19-hour standoff between authorities and an armed shoplifting suspect in 2015.
John Lech lived at the home at 4219 South Alton Street with his girlfriend and her nine-year-old son when on June 3, 2015, officers from the Greenwood Village Police Department responded to a burglar alarm at the home.
>The video above is a story from Oct. 2019 about the 10th Circuit Appeals Court ruling against the homeowner's request for compensation.
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.
During the ensuing standoff, officers 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 of Greenwood Village 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.
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 2019 and the ruling was issued in October 2019 affirming the lower court ruling that damage was the result of "police power" and not the result of eminent domain power.
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."
>The video below is a full, unedited interview with Leo Lech from October 2019 after the 10th Circuit Appeals Court ruling against him.
The Institute for Justice (IJ) said the appeal asks SCOTUS to uphold precedents requiring just compensation under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The IJ argues that SCOTUS has never ruled that the use of police power exempts government from paying for property that was taken or destroyed.
The appeal focuses on whether the homeowners or the public should bear the cost of damages caused by the Greenwood Village Police Department's actions, and IJ said the appeal does not question the use of force by officers or the tactics used to take the suspect into custody.
“We have tried for years to get Greenwood to do the right thing and compensate us for the complete destruction of our home,” said Leo Lech. “My son’s family were very literally thrown out into the street with the clothes on their backs, offered $5,000 and told to ‘go deal with it.’ We’re now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to protect our constitutional right for just compensation.”
"The police are allowed to destroy property if they need to in order to do their jobs safely,” said IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara. “But if the government destroys someone’s property in order to benefit the public, it is only fair that the public rather than an innocent property owner pay for that benefit.”
"Property rights are the foundation of our rights. The lower court’s ruling that government officials can purposefully destroy someone’s home without owing a dime in compensation is dangerous and un-American," said IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock.
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