A Texas woman has won a round in her fight to force the city of McKinney, Texas, to be held accountable for the destruction of her home.
The Institute for Justice explained a federal judge ruled recently the lawsuit by Vicki Baker over the destruction of her residence by the city's SWAT team can move forward.
"The court recognized that the city of McKinney is not exempt from the Constitution," said IJ Attorney Jeffrey Redfern. "This is the first step towards Vicki getting her due, but it’s a big one. The government must compensate individuals when it deliberately destroys their property."
In the decision, handed down by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Judge Amos Mazzant III threw out the city’s motion to dismiss the case.
"At the motion to dismiss stage, it would be imprudent to foreclose Baker’s ability to recover based on the shaky reasoning recited in non-binding cases from other circuits—especially when both the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court have alluded that a taking could result from destructive police power," explained the judge.
The institute explained it was during July 2020 that police in the city were chasing a fugitive.
He decided to hide out in a home that was listed for sale in the Dallas suburb of McKinney. That home belonged to Vicki Baker.
"After a lengthy standoff, the SWAT team stormed the home, shattering windows, setting off tear-gas grenades, tearing down doors and destroying the fence. The home was in ruins and Vicki’s daughter’s dog was left deaf and blind from the explosions," IJ reported.
Vicki had renovated the house and it was under contract to be sold. The SWAT team left it uninhabitable; every window was destroyed, and she had to hire a hazmat team to dispose of what was left inside. All in all, it was over $50,000 worth of damage. Upon seeing the destruction that occurred, the potential buyer backed out, Vicki’s insurance company did not cover most of the expenses and the city offered no remedy to her, the institute explained in detail.
So she, in partnership with IJ, sued McKinney. She charges that she has the right to be compensated for intentional destruction of private property. The lawsuit alleges the city’s choice to destroy her home and offer no compensation violated both the United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution.
Baker's insurance company told her city authorities had "immunity" and were leaving her to pay for the damage they had done.
"In America, ‘if you break it, you buy it,’” said IJ Attorney Jeff Redfern. “The McKinney SWAT team didn’t just break Vicki’s home—they destroyed it. Now it is time for them to pay for the damage they caused.”
“I appreciate that the police did what they thought was necessary to protect the community,” Vicki said. “But it’s unfair to place the costs—replacing or redoing all of my flooring, the burst pipes, the damaged roof, the blown-out garage door, the broken doors, the toppled fence—on me, just because the guy happened to pick my house and not someone else’s.”
IJ previously fought a similar battle over a home destroyed in Greenwood Village, Colorado, when a fugitive broke in and staged a standoff with police.
The homeowner, Leo Lech, sued, but his claim was rejected by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Lech appealed to the Supreme Court, but the justices refused to step into the dispute.
IJ said the outcome of the case is "dangerous, and it is un-American," and the organization pledged to continuing the fight to overturn the precedent.
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