GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — A federal appeals court says the Greenwood Village Police Department does not have to pay for the damage done to a home they rendered uninhabitable during a 19-hour standoff with an armed robbery suspect holed up inside.
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 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 Greenwood Village case, the city offered to help pay for temporary living arrangements while the Lechs demolished and rebuilt their home, the ruling said.
“The bottom line is: the complete destruction of a family’s home and throwing that family out into the street homeless by a government agency is not acceptable under any circumstances in a civilized society. What happened to us is third-world by every definition. We as a nation are better than that, we should be better than that,” homeowner Leo Lech said.
Lech said he just wanted fair-market value for his home.
“If the government is going to use this kind of firepower, then the line has to be drawn where somebody has to be accountable for this,” he said.
Now, Lech plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I do not want this to happen to another family in this country because it will — absolutely will — if something is not done. It is absolutely not fair for anyone else to live through what we have. It destroyed our lives. I had plans to retire at age 60, we were financially set. All that is gone out the window, just gone. At the hands of those who serve and protect us,” he said.
The city of Greenwood Village issued a statement that said in part:
“The Courts, both State and Federal who have analyzed this matter, have consistently ruled in favor of the police actions taken to resolve this critical incident. The Courts have recognized that while these types of events present difficult questions, the police should value life over property and may act pursuant to their police powers accordingly.”