A Colorado landlord’s rental property was blown to pieces by police officers trying to flush out a shoplifting suspect who had holed up there, and an appeals court ruled this week that the Greenwood Village police owe him nothing in compensation.
As NPR News reports, back in June of 2015, a suspect stole two belts and a shirt from a Walmart. Police chased him, and the man took refuge in a rental property owned by Leo Lech. Lech was renting the home out to his son, John Lech, who lived in the home with his girlfriend, two dogs, and the woman’s 9-year-old son. As the suspect barged into the home, the boy got out safely.
Police surrounded the home and ordered the suspect to come out. A 19-hour standoff ensued, during which the suspect shot at the police. Eventually, police stormed the home, firing tear gas into it, blowing up the walls with explosives, and driving an armored vehicle through the doors.
The building was later condemned by the city. Meanwhile, the home’s occupants moved in with Leo. Lech sued the city for compensation for the damage to his property.
“Under no circumstances in this country should the government be able to blow up your house and render a family homeless. This family was thrown out into the street without any recourse,” Lech said in his suit.
Lech argued that the Constitution prohibits the government from taking your property without just cause and without proper compensation.
However, both a lower court and, now, an appeals court have ruled that neither the Constitution nor legal precedent supports the notion that police are on the hook for damage to a property incurred while apprehending a criminal suspect.
“As unfair as it may seem, the [Constitution] simply does not entitle all aggrieved owners to recompense,” the appeals court wrote.
Lech, for his part, was able to recoup several hundred thousand dollars from his insurance company, and he used that money to build a new home on the grounds.
Greenwood Village says Leo Lech's rebuilt home, 4 years after police blew it up to catch a barricaded suspect...is bigger & more expensive. Lech says that doesn't justify police action but Appeals Court sided w/police. Leo's Insurance paid $345k but @greenwoodgov paid $0 #kdvr pic.twitter.com/zu7ft3EmUv— Rob Low (@RobLowTV) October 30, 2019
He was also given $5,000 by the city in compensation, an amount his lawyer describes as “unconscionable.”
Lech plans to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. His lawyer, Rachel Maxam, says that this is actually a pretty good case for the SCOTUS to hear, considering that there are some tricky Constitutional issues at play here.
As for Lech, he just wants the police to be held accountable.
“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 said.