Jury Says Texas City Must Pay Woman $60k After Cops Destroyed Her Home To Apprehend A Suspect
from the could-have-saved-taxpayers-cash-by-paying-her-two-years-ago dept
Bucking a trend set by two separate Appeals Courts (Ninth and Tenth), a federal court in Texas has said it is actually a violation of rights when cops destroy an innocent person’s home to effect an arrest. What’s more, a jury has backed up that decision with actual compensation. (h/t The Honest Courtesan)
Today, a federal jury ruled that Vicki Baker is entitled to $59,656.59 in damages after a SWAT team destroyed her McKinney, Texas, home while pursuing a fleeing fugitive in July 2020. The ruling is a victory for Vicki, who joined forces with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit in March 2021, after the city refused to pay for the damage that had been caused.
“My priority has always been to make sure that cities like McKinney cannot treat other people the way I’ve been treated,” Vicki said. “I expect today’s victory to send a message to governments across the country that they have to pay for what they break.”
Vicki Baker’s home suffered more than $50,000 in damage after the McKinney PD detonated explosives to open a garage entryway, tossed tear gas grenades into her house, ran over her fence with an armored vehicle, and tore her front door off its hinges. All of this to effect an arrest of a fugitive wanted for kidnapping who had decided to hide out in his former employer’s house until the heat died down.
The officers did all of this despite being given a garage door opener, a code to the back gate, and a key to the house.
Late last year, this court hinted (but did not make a final call) this sort of wanton destruction was a rights violation.
While the Court acknowledges that governmental bodies are not “liable under the Just Compensation Clause to property owners every time policemen break down the doors of buildings to foil burglars thought to be inside[,]” Nat’l Bd. of Young Men’s Christian Ass’ns v United States, 395 U.S. 85, 92 (1969) (emphasis added), Baker has alleged damage to her private property—and the City’s refusal to compensate for such damage—that plausibly amounts to a Fifth Amendment violation.
It also suggested it might be a violation of the state constitution as well, especially since the damage caused was hardly “incidental” or “unforeseen.”
Even if the government did not intend to damage Baker’s property to apprehend Little, the City was substantially certain such damage would result. It is unreasonable for the City to suggest the Department officers stormed Baker’s house, broke the windows, knocked down the garage door, rammed down the backyard fence with a tank-like vehicle, and fired dozens of explosive tear gas cannisters into the home without a degree of certainty that such actions would cause damage to the property.
A little more than a month ago, the court handed down a ruling [PDF] that confirmed its earlier speculation: this senseless destruction — one the city refused to pay for — violated Baker’s rights. And the victim of this unconstitutional taking must be compensated.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that the Takings Clause prevents the government from “‘forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.’” Penn Central, 438 U.S. at 123 (quoting Armstrong, 364 U.S. at 49). The Supreme Court has also articulated a per se rule that applies here: in the case of physical appropriations by the government, the government must pay for what it takes. Cedar Point, 141 S. Ct. at 2071. The Court is not persuaded to deviate from physical takings jurisprudence “as old as the Republic,” Tahoe-Sierra, 535 U. S. at 322, especially considering the decisions the City relies on cherry-picks dicta from Bennis to produce a rule that undermines decades of Supreme Court Takings precedent. Thus, the Court does not find that the total destruction of private property pursuant to the government’s exercise of its police power is categorically non-compensable under the Fifth Amendment.
As for the “cherry-picked dicta” the city cited to justify its ongoing refusal to pay for any of the damage its police department had caused, the court offers this rejoinder:
More importantly, were this rule applied here, Baker’s constitutional protections under the Fifth Amendment would disappear. It cannot be the case that public good could be done at the cost of the individual. When the Court reads the decisions in Lech, Johnson, and Amerisource, the Court is left with one question: “What is more terrifying: the fact that the government would have to pay a just amount for the property it destroys pursuant to its police powers, or that it would be exempt from paying a dime, regardless of the motivations behind its actions?” Emilio R. Longoria, Lech’s Mess, 11 WAKE FOREST J. L. & POL’Y 297, 306 (2021).
The city also cited Lech, the Tenth Circuit’s abysmal decision that pretty much said no public entity should ever have to pay for damage to private property caused by law enforcement officers. But, as the court points out, this means nothing in this case. First off, the Tenth Circuit is an entirely different jurisdiction. (Texas courts are in the Fifth Circuit.) Second, the decision wasn’t precedential. (And, third, it obviously disagrees with the Lech decision, finding it to run contrary to Supreme Court precedent.)
Finally, after two years of litigating, the city will have to pay what it probably just should have paid Baker two years (and thousands in legal fees) ago. The check hasn’t been cut yet, and there’s a good chance the city will appeal this decision, but it does at least show the general public (the jurors in this case) feel the government should have to pay for the private property it destroys.