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Federal court: Police don't have to pay for damage after SWAT team destroys family's home

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Federal court: Police don't have to pay for damage after SWAT team destroys man's home. (Photo: MGN)

In 2015, during a 19-hour raid, police in Colorado tore Leo Lech's home apart, tearing out every window frame and reducing the interior to a warzone.

Why?

Police were looking for a shoplifting suspect who chose to hide in Lech's home. Lech had no connection to the suspect or the crime. More on the crime later on in this story.

Now, according to the Denver Post, a federal court says police don't have to pay for any of the damage they caused during the 19-hour SWAT operation that left some of the wooden frame of Lech's home exposed to the elements.

In their ruling, the federal judges said police were "acting in their lawful role" in their process to arrest a criminal suspect, and therefore are not liable for any damages caused to property, even if the damage occurred to property owned by someone not involved in a crime.

Lech told the Denver Post:

It destroyed our lives completely. The way we were treated is barbaric. The whole thing is a debacle of epic proportions. The bottom line is that destroying somebody’s home and throwing them out in the street by a government agency for whatever circumstances is not acceptable in a civilized society.

The ruling happened after three years of litigation, and Lech's next step would be to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, something he is considering.

Despite no monetary offer from police or the city of Greenwood Village, Colorado, Lech's insurance company paid his family $345,000 for the damage to the $580,000 home.

Lech rebuilt his home with the money, but the amount was not enough to cover all expenses such as demolition, incidentals, personal property losses or the cost of the appraised $580,000 home.

It took two years to build the new home, which Lech and his family took out a $600,000 mortgage on.

ORIGINAL CRIME

The Lech family's nightmare began on June 3, 2015, when SWAT officers stormed into their home looking for shoplifting suspect Robert Seacat.

Seacat. who also had multiple felony warrants out for his arrest, fled the scene and decided to hideout inside the Lech's home.

Police unsuccessfully tried talking Seacat into coming out from the home for five hours, during which Seacat shot at police at least once from inside the home, and several more once police decided to begin an all-out assault on Lech's home.

Police used armored vehicles to knock down the home's doors, and explosives to blast holes in the walls.

Police used multiple cans of tear gas and fired numerous 40 mm rounds at the home.

The interior of the home was left to rubble after the 19-hour operation ended when police arrested Seacat.

POLICE POWER, STATEMENTS

Rachel Maxam, one of Lech's attorneys told the Denver Post:

This is happening all around the country because police have equipment from the military, so they decided this is the way to do things and typically the suspect does not survive it.

Maxam also said it was an "unprecedented expansion of police powers" to allow any government employee the authority to destroy a house and leave people homeless, all in the name of trying to enforce the law.

The National Tactical Officers Association says the officers "acted in a highly commendable manner," according to a statement from the city of Greenwood Village, Colorado.

That statement, in part, reads:

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.
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