A federal appeals court has ruled against a Colorado man who’d asked for compensation after police destroyed his house while pursuing an armed shoplifting suspect.
Greenwood Village homeowner Leo Lech sued the city after it offered him $5,000 in the aftermath of the 2015 incident. Lech says he had to take out a mortgage to cover the $400,000 cost of razing and rebuilding the structure, which was rendered uninhabitable.
While sympathetic to Lech’s situation, the 10th Circuit Court ultimately sided with the lower court, finding police acted within their scope of power to preserve public safety.
The saga dates back to June 2015, when an armed shoplifting suspect named Robert Seacat tried to evade police by stealing a car from the garage of Lech’s rental home in the southern Denver suburb.
Alerted by a burglar alarm, police responded to the residence before Seacat could escape, prompting him to barricade himself inside the house. After 19 hours, and after Seacat fired at the officers gathered outside, police responded with an overwhelming show of force: Officers blew up walls with explosives and drove an armored vehicle through the front door; a robot deployed flashbang grenades inside the house; tear gas canisters and 40-millimeter rounds were fired through the windows.
With the house destroyed, Seacat ― whose run-in with the law began over an accusation of stealing two belts and a shirt from Wal-Mart ― was arrested and later convicted of 17 felonies.
Kathryn Scott Osler via Getty Images Leo Lech stands on a pile of wood in his neighbor’s yard that overlooks the back of his condemned home in June 2015.
But while officers basked in what was deemed a “highly commendable” and “resounding success” by the National Tactical Officers Association, Lech, whose son rented the home with his girlfriend and her 9-year-old son, clearly disagreed.
“What I’ve learned is that we have no rights. What I’ve learned is that they can come and blow up my house and throw me out in the street and say see you later, deal with it,” Lech told CBS Denver. “Our lives will never be the same, and just the sheer point that this was done to us by people we pay taxes to, this was done deliberately.”
Lech’s home insurance paid him $345,000 after the incident. Greenwood Village highlighted the payout in defense of its conduct, accusing Lech of using the proceeds “to build a much larger and more expensive home.” But Lech countered he had no choice, telling CBS Denver he couldn’t rebuild the original structure to meet modern code at that price.
“Insurance is for fires, floods,” Lech’s attorney Rachel Maxam told The Denver Post. “There’s no ‘police blew up my house’ insurance.”
The city still stands by its officers’ use of force, writing in a statement: “The Greenwood Village Police Department actions … were taken to preserve life, and were at all times conducted in an appropriate manner and in accord with their recognized and lawful police powers.”
Lech disagrees and says he intends to appeal the ruling, potentially to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There needs to be a line drawn for what police departments can do and what they need to do to compensate citizens for this kind of damage,” Lech told NPR. “I didn’t want to sue anyone for millions. I just wanted fair market value for my house.”
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