Property damage will continue as long as there are no suspects or the circumstances justify non-knock action.
Wesley Little was wanted by the police for being on the run along with a girl of 15 years old. Little had eluded the police in a Corvette on an exciting chase. Vicki Baker was home when he knocked. Deanna Cook Baker’s daughter recognized Little. She had read a post on Facebook alerting her that Little had fled with the “runaway”, he was alleged to have kidnapped. Baker’s adult daughter, Deanna Cook, recognized Little after seeing a Facebook post alerting her that Little was on the run with a “runaway” he had allegedly kidnapped.
Little wanted to hide in the house, park his car and come inside. Cook, who was afraid of Little but recognized her as a girl, agreed to assist Little. Cook allowed Little to enter the house and she then told him that she needed to get to the store. Cook called Baker to describe the situation. Baker then called the police.
The officers surrounded Little’s house and ordered him to leave. The girl was released but he refused to leave. He was in the ceiling, she said, and they were armed with long guns and pistols. They also told the girl that the boy was clearly high on methamphetamine.
Officers used gas grenades, two armored cars, noise-flash distractor devices and drones to attempt to solve the problem when negotiations fell through. With the help of the drone officers were able to see that Little was dead.
Baker’s dog is permanently deaf and blinded due to the explosions. Hazardous materials specialists were needed to remove the toxic residue. The furniture and appliances had to be destroyed. All the following items needed replacing: ceiling fans, bricks, flooring (hard and carpet), windows, blinds. the fence. the garage door. All of the personal belongings in the home were lost. Damages were estimated to be $50,000.
Baker claimed that the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause gave her the right to receive compensation for the property taken by the government. Baker didn’t blame the police because the Takings Clause in the Constitution says private property cannot be “taken for public use without just compensation.” Her attorney, on the other hand, said that “there was really good work done here,” and it “was successful operation,” and “everyone adhered to procedure.” He also stated, “Everyone did what they had to do.” Baker’s Insurance refused to cover the intentional damage done by police, and the City refused to reimburse any damage.
It is common for teams of tactical officers to destroy or damage private property in the course of an investigation. A search warrant or an arrest warrant may be served on a rental home. A suspect is sent to prison, the landlord defaults and the owner has to pay to fix damage caused by broken windows or doors. We all know that even though the suspect was responsible for the damage, it is impossible to extract blood from a turnip.
Before the trial began, the city made an offer to Baker of the total amount due. She insisted on payment as well as a change to the police policy that would prevent future incidents. Baker won the trial, and a juror found him to be right. The city appealed.
The appeals court reversed the decision and sent it back to be reviewed. It was held that the “Takings clause does not require compensatory damages for property destroyed or damaged when officers damage or destroy property objectively in an emergency situation to avoid imminent harm.” Baker conceded that “the actions of the officers were exactly that, necessary in the light of an emergency in order to prevent immediate harm to her hostage child and the responding officers, as well as to other residents in the residential community.”
It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will change the interpretation of the Takings Clause. Officers should do everything possible to prevent damage to private property. Property damage will occur as long as the suspects are hiding or as long as circumstances justify no-knocking. Fixing a broken window or door may cost less than suing. As Baker’s case illustrates, the Takings Clause does not apply when officers are required to destroy or damage property in order to protect the public.
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