Court Flips Bird To Guy Whose House Police Blew Up

A federal appeals court ruled this week that a homeowner isn't entitled to compensation after police wrecked his house and left his family homeless. Leo Lech's Greenwood Village, Colorado, residence was the setting of a 19-hour standoff with police in June 2015. An armed shoplifter, who'd scored two belts and a shirt from Walmart, broke into Lech's home and held off pursuing officers with a handgun. The cops fired tear gas into the residence, exploded walls, blew out windows, and finally drove a military-style armored vehicle through the front door.

SWAT officers apprehended the shoplifting suspect, who had nothing to do with Lech, but in their wake, they left behind the climax of an Avengers movie.

"The interior of the Lech Home was a mass of debris and destroyed belongings from the projectiles launched into the home by the Defendants. Chemical munitions or other projectiles were stuck in the walls. The Lech Home was completely uninhabitable and its condition posed a danger to anyone entering the home," one of Lech's attorneys, David Williams, wrote in a federal lawsuit filed in August 2016.

You'd think, under those circumstances, Lech would've won the free house lottery. If he didn't receive a giant novelty check at a public ceremony, the cops could've at least come back on the weekends and helped rebuild like on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." They'd already had demo day. But this was like a bad "Property Brothers" episode where they demolish your house and then tell you to fuck off.

Crime Watch Daily: SWAT Stand-Off Leaves Home

Lech was renting the place to his son, John. His 9-year-old grandson was home alone during the siege but managed to get out of the house in one piece before it was left in pieces. We should note that the SWAT team was called in after the child was no longer in danger. They chose to go after the perpetrator of the Walmart heist like he was Saddam Hussein in his bunker. They didn't just destroy Lech's home but blew out the windows in his neighbor's basement, as well.

The city condemned Lech's house and officials paid him just $5,000 for his trouble. That wouldn't even cover the costs of a new kitchen -- by a lot. City spokesperson Melissa Gallegos said the damage was necessary to "get the gunman out without any loss of life." This is like claiming you drive better when you're drunk. You might've wound up at your destination without consulting GPS but the boilermakers weren't helpful and certainly not "necessary." It's a miracle that no one was killed when the police went into elephant gun mode to remove a single fly.

GALLEGOS: What Mr. Lech also failed to tell you was that he chose on his own to demolish the house rather than repair it, repour the foundation that wasn't damaged and built a bigger better house where the old one stood.

Gallegos is upset that Lech built a "better" house, one not constructed from straw and sticks, in case the big bad police showed up again. She's probably not a real estate person, but literally condemned houses are usually tear downs. You can't just slap a coat of paint on the nonexistent wall. Gallegos turns up her nose at what she considers Lech's superfluous home remodel, but the city only gave the guy $5,000. That wouldn't pay for even the most half-assed repairs. The homeowner can reverse a condemned status, but it's an intensive process involving the city. The restored structure has to comply with building codes and pass a thorough inspection. It's the sort of thing you want to do right.

Lech's lawyers (rightly) argued that the police violated his constitutional rights when they destroyed his home. The Takings Clause states that "private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation." Unfortunately, the appellate court claimed that there's precedent for the police driving tanks through the Constitution. The courts have consistently shielded cops from responsibility for damages caused when making an arrest.

"As unfair as it may seem, the Takings Clause simply does not entitle all aggrieved owners to recompense," the appeals court wrote.

That doesn't "seem" unfair. It is objectively unfair. Fortunately, Lech was in a financial position to rebuild, but he's still out $400,000 plus $28,000 in legal fees through no fault of his own. It's also unlikely that he can seek redress from the guy who steals clothing at Walmart.

The increasing militarization of the police is a problem, and naturally Donald Trump only wants more of it. Treating American neighborhoods like war zones is flat-out wrong.


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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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