Colorado police in Greenwood Village seem to follow the same approach to home invasion as the major at the battle of for the South Vietnamese town of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” The logic however escaped Anna Mumzhiyan and her fiance John Lech. Police chased a shoplifter who was believed to be armed to their home. The Walmart shoplifter, Robert Seacat, (left) was met by a SWAT team including the most all-too-common armored cars. Not willing to wait him out, the police proceeded to punch holes through the walls of the home and plant explosives — destroying walls and leaving the home uninhabitable. They got their man and the homeowners got a collapsing wreck of a home. Police are still debating whether they are liable for the damage.
Anna and John (right) are miffed that the police could not take a less militarized and extreme approach. Anna’s nine-year-old boy was in the home when Seacat ran in. The boy said that Seacat (who has drug-related warrants) did not threaten the boy and kept the gun down by his side. The boy said that Seacat told him “I don’t mean you any harm. I don’t want to harm anybody.” The boy was allowed to leave or escaped without resistance. Police therefore knew that Seacat was alone in the house.
No one would suggest that the police should put anyone at risk to avoid property damage. Indeed, one account said that Seacat fired his weapon through a garage door to keep officers at bay. There was good reason to send the SWAT team and there was good reason not to storm the house. However, this was also a shoplifter alone in a surrounded dwelling. Given the account of a possible gun, it was wise to try to wait him out but the police decided to destroy parts of the home after about 20 hours of a standoff.
The couple says that no one from the police or the city offered to help them. Rather, they told the media that “basically, they came in, they blew up the house, and they said, ‘Okay. See you.'”
After trying to use Seacat’s sister to get him out, the police used a “breaching ram,” robots, and flash bang grenades. They also cut off all of the power to the entire neighborhood.
I am unconvinced that police could not wait out Seacat but I am certainly willing to defer to their judgment. However, when it comes to the cost, I would think that the city is entirely on the hook for the damage and should have immediately put the family up in a hotel, particularly when they have a young child. Under the common law, “public champions” like fire fighters and police are not responsible for damage to private property but the modern approach is to allow for such compensation. Thus, it was common to destroy homes to create fire breaks and technically no compensation was required. Today compensation is generally given.
The case also raises a concern over the increasing militarization of police departments and the tendency to use paramilitary forces rather than simply wait out felons like Seacat. The fear is that with the availability of larger SWAT unites and armored vehicles, police are inclined to use the higher level of force.
What do you think?