GREENWOOD VILLAGE, COLO–A SWAT raid on a home in 2015 in pursuit of an armed shoplifter who refused to come out resulted in the Greenwood Village home of Leo, Alfonsina and John Lech being destroyed by explosives, bullets, a battering ram and chemical agents. The Lechs are seeking a rehearing of an October denial of compensation by the city for the destroyed home by a federal appeals court, according to a press release from the Institute for Justice (IJ), which is representing the Lechs in the matter along with Colorado attorney Rachel Maxam.
IJ is a public interest law firm based in Arlington, Va, which according to its website “litigates to limit the size and scope of government power and to ensure that all Americans have the right to control their own destinies as free and responsible members of society.”
During the 2015 incident, the shoplifter, Robert Seacat, randomly picked the Lech’s home to invade in an attempt to avoid arrest. Seacat was a methamphetamine user and had several warrants out for his arrest.
More than 65 rounds of munitions and explosive charges were used by the Greenwood Village police, and a battering ram mounted on a vehicle ripped out entire sections of walls from the outside.
“I could easily have instituted a plan to go in there, I assure you, in the first fifteen minutes,” Greenwood Village Police Commander Dustin Varney told media after the raid. “I refuse to do that on a sole barricaded gunman when I’ve got time on my side, and I’ve got more than enough tactics and resources in hopes to outlast him.”
But nearly 20 hours later the tactics of outlasting Seacat changed. By the time the raid was over the home was destroyed beyond repair and the Lech family lost nearly all their possessions.
Seacat eventually surrendered and is currently serving a sentence at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility near Buena Vista and is eligible for parole in 2071.
Lech filed a lawsuit against Greenwood Village police claiming that their property was “taken” by being destroyed and that the city should have to pay for the damage under the Fifth Amendment. It says “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in October that the use of the government’s “police power” that destroys private property does not constitute a taking under the Fifth Amendment.
“The police are allowed to destroy property if they need to in order to do their jobs safely,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert McNamara in a press release Monday. “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.”
The Institute for Justice is representing the family in an appeal to the Circuit Court’s ruling by asking for an “en banc” reconsideration of the case by the whole Court.
Lech has previously indicated he might also seek a hearing before the Supreme Court if necessary.
The house was razed and a new home was built in its place.
Melissa Gallegos, Communications Officer for the city directed Complete Colorado to a photo of the new house, but was unable to provide a photo of the house destroyed in the raid.