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Court: Police don't have to pay for home damaged in standoff

Posted at 4:15 PM, Oct 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-31 11:07:07-04

DENVER (AP) — Police do not have to pay for the damage done to a suburban Denver home rendered uninhabitable during a 19-hour standoff in which officers used an armored vehicle to break holes in the building, under a ruling from a federal appeals court.

The Lech family sued police in Greenwood Village after the 2015 ordeal, claiming the damage from the operation amounted to a taking of their property for public use, entitling them to fair compensation. However, the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court's ruling that the government was acting within its police powers, not its eminent domain authority, and didn't have to provide compensation.

According to the ruling, police went to the home after a burglar alarm sounded when the suspect, Robert Seacat, entered. He was being sought by police in nearby Aurora and fired at a police car from inside the home. After five hours of trying to convince him to surrender, police fired several rounds of gas ammunition in the home, broke down the home's doors with a BearCat armored vehicle to deliver a phone to him and used explosives to create sight lines and entry points. Officers entered the home but then retreated after he fired at them, leading police to then use the BearCat to open multiple holes in the building and then send in SWAT officers again. They were then able to arrest him.

The appeals court said three other federal appeals courts and the Court of Federal Claims, which handles cases against the federal government, have issued similar rulings. They include the case of an empty rental home in Desert Hot Springs, California, that was damaged by U.S. Marshals in 2015 as they apprehended a suspect who had entered it without the knowledge of the owners. The marshals used gunfire, smoke bombs, tear gas, a battering ram and a robot to get inside.

In the Colorado case, the city offered $5,000 to help pay for temporary living arrangements while the Lechs demolished and rebuilt their home, the ruling said.