10 June 2015

Is Destroying A House To Capture A Shoplifter A Taking?

In Greenwood Village, Colorado, earlier this month, a police SWAT team destroyed a random house that an armed shoplifter had taken refuge in, ending a twenty-hour standoff.  No one else was inside the house.  The shoplifter did not have some huge stash of ammunition in reserve.  The owner of the house had absolutely nothing to do with the situation except that the shoplifter ducked into it.

If the police action was unreasonable (and surely it was, although a court might say otherwise), then the police may have violated the homeowner's civil rights, entitling him to monetary relief.  But, because it is unlikely that a court has determined that this exact course of conduct is unreasonable, it is more likely than not that the police would have qualified immunity from liability for their actions, and hence might not be liable for a civil rights violation.

But, should that matter?  From the perspective of the homeowner, he suffered harm, at the hands of law enforcement, in a case when he was entirely innocent.  Shouldn't that qualify as a 5th Amendment taking, in which he would be entitled to relief from Greenwood Village itself, without having to sue the law enforcement officers involved, for the fair market value of the harm to his home.  Why should his insurance company have to bear any of that risk?

If the police want to destroy innocent people's property to capture fleeing minor to mid-level criminals, so be it, but they shouldn't be able to impose the harm to private property caused by their choice of tactics in innocent individuals.

No comments: