76-Year-Old Woman Suing The City After A SWAT Team Drove An Armored Car Through Her Front Door

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Copyright: Institute for Justice (CC BY 4.0)

Last July, in a neighborhood north of Dallas, a fugitive took cover in a suburban house that was put up for sale before the events took place. After a lengthy standoff, a SWAT team attacked the residence, throwing tear gas grenades through the windows, blowing up doors, and leveling a fence with an armored vehicle that they proceeded to then drive through her front entrance. When the smoke cleared, it may have seemed as if the homeowner's nightmare had just ended, but, in reality, it had only just begun.

Vicki Baker, the 76-year-old homeowner, had spent a year prepping it for sale. And her labor appeared to pay off as It was under contract and scheduled to close just days after the assault took place. However, due to the extensive damage left by the SWAT team, the customer justifiably walked away. After all, the house was in tatters, and both the city and Vicki's insurance company refused to cover the majority of the expenses to repair it. In effect, the city basically told her, "tough luck."

Vicki and her daughter, Deanna, hired a local handyman called Wesley Little to work on the house before Vicki departed for her new home in an area she had wanted to move into for years. However, once Vicki left, Deanna informed her mother that Little made her feel uncomfortable, so Vicki decided to let him go. Vicki was relieved to locate a buyer for the home more than a year later, and her goal of retiring in tranquility in Montana was nearly realized.

Vicki's dream, however, turned into a nightmare on July 25, 2020. Deanna was reading the news that morning when she came across a story about a fugitive on the run who had abducted a 15-year-old girl. Deanna was taken aback when she recognized the fugitive; it was Little. She called her mother, who told her not to worry, but Little showed up at the house a few hours later with the girl, and said he required a garage and a place to stay the night. Deanna, terrified, allowed him in and promptly explained that she needed to run a few errands. In reality, she dialed 911 as soon as she was a safe distance away.

The police came minutes later, surrounded the house, and began negotiating with Little. The child escaped to safety, unharmed, after a few hours, but she informed police that Little was armed and would not come out. Deanna had supplied the cops with the keys to the house, a garage door opener, and a code to the back gate, but the cops instead opted to send in a SWAT team to storm the house.

When the SWAT team arrived, they drove over Vicki's fence and then tore through her front entrance with the department's BearCat armored tactical vehicle. Additionally, they blew open her garage door with explosives and launched more than thirty tear gas canisters through the windows, effectively smashing them. And when they eventually stormed her home, they discovered Little had already committed suicide in Vicki's bedroom.

The only living organism inside was Deanna's dog, who had been rendered deaf and blind by the explosions.

The extent of the damage to Vicki's home became obvious when the smoke cleared. The next day, her daughter put on a mask to protect herself from the remaining tear gas and used her phone to send her mother a video of the devastation. Vicki could tell that the house was unsuitable to live in. Every window had been destroyed by the SWAT team, and a thick, toxic film from the tear gas had coated everything in the home. Further,  Vicki was advised by the police that the house was dangerous to enter and that she needed to hire a hazmat crew to safely dispose of her destroyed furniture, carpet, and clothes.

In all, the destruction came to more than $80,000 in damage, and the City left Vicki with the bill.

The government may selectively "take" private property for public use under both the US and Texas State constitutions, but only if it pays the property owner the fair market value in compensation. This principle is equally applicable when the government "takes" property by deliberately destroying it.

Policing costs should not be carried disproportionately by innocent, unlucky property owners who get their homes trashed by police, like Vicki. That is why the Institute for Justice is backing Vicki in her efforts to prove that cops are not immune to the old but true adage, "you break it, you buy it."

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  1. Property damage in the course of the government action is not considered 'taken' unless it's specifically emanant domain.