Your Castle May Not Be Protected From Collateral Police Damage
Your home is your castle, right? If there is anything true in America, it's that a person is safe from government intrusion in their homes. Accused of a crime? The government cannot search your house without a warrant. Your house in the middle of a new planned highway? The government cannot just take your house. If the government wants the property, there is a process, and, in the end, you must receive fair compensation.
But what about if it becomes necessary for your house to be destroyed for the greater good?
Your Castle as Collateral Damage
Imagine yourself sitting at home, on your favorite couch, watching your favorite television show on your brand new 78 inch television. It's been a long, hard day and, for the first time in a long time, you decide to take a night off, put your feet up, and relax. Your cat decides to join you in what should be a nice, quiet evening.
Then, out of nowhere, the front door explodes. You see a man with a gun run through your door and run upstairs, firing shots at the chasing police after him. Then the gunman yells down that he will never go back to jail and will die in a firefight. Luckily you're able to run for cover before police begin their protocol of explosives, toxic gasses, and other weapons to end the stalemate. Finally, the gunman decides to end his own life.
The situation is secure. The neighborhood is safe. Police followed all necessary protocol.
Ripped From the Headlines
While this plot sounds right out of a movie, it is based on a very real story in Texas. After a fifteen year-old was kidnapped by a man, they ended upon at the home of Vicki Baker. Baker was not home at the time, but her daughter and her dog were there. The daughter, recognizing the man from the news, snuck out of the home and informed the police of the man's location. Police arrived and, after the young girl escaped, she informed police that the man was high on methamphetamines, had a small arsenal of weapons, and was ready to die in a shootout with police.
During the standoff, police used explosive devices, armored vehicles, and toxic gas grenades. Eventually the gunman took his own life and the standoff ended.
Unfortunately, Baker's home was severely damaged, her personal property was destroyed, and her dog was now deaf and blind from the explosions.
Homeowner Out of Luck
Unfortunately for Baker, her insurance company refused to cover the damages because it was caused by police. Further, the City of McKinney, Texas refused to compensate because there was no liability.
Finding no other alternative, Baker therefore filed suit against the City of McKinney, Texas for an illegal takings under the Fifth Amendment. Her argument was that the City used her property for a public purpose, destroyed it, and refused to compensate her.
The district court agreed with Baker.
The Fifth Circuit reversed. In the opinion, the Fifth Circuit said that, pursuant to historical rulings, municipalities could not be found liable for damage caused when the actions were necessary for the public good. To do so would make police officers second guess themselves in emergency situations.
There is one glimmer of hope for Baker though. After explaining its reasonings, the Fifth Circuit explained that it was only for the Supreme Court to decide what is fair and just. In this matter, the Fifth Circuit could only follow what has already been decided.
Baker can only hope that the Supreme Court takes the case. If they Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, homeowners across the country could be at risk becoming collateral damage to police investigations. Perhaps the medieval kings and queens were right: the only real way to actually defend your castle is to build a moat?
- What Are My Rights as a Homeowner? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- The Taking of Property for Public Use (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Home Insurance Coverage Issues In-Depth (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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