Police Do Not Want to Pay for Damage They Inflicted to Texas Home
by Kevin Bliss
Wesley Little had an hours-long standoff with McKinney, Texas, police in Vicki Baker’s home after running off with a 15-year-old girl. Baker was not home at the time, and the 15-year-old got out safely. But Little committed suicide as the police stormed the house. Total damage to the home exceeded $50,000 for which the City of McKinney said it is not liable.
On July 25, 2021, Little had run off with a teenage child and showed up at the Baker home looking for a place to hide out. According to a report in Vice.com, he had previously worked at the Baker’s but was let go because he made the Baker children uncomfortable. Vicki Baker, 76, lived out of state. But her daughter, Deanna, was there preparing the home for sale. Deanna was able to get out of the house and contact the police. She provided them the access code to the alarm and the garage door opener. When her mother heard what was going on, she called the police and begged them not to destroy her home.
After the minor left the house, a police SWAT team launched 30 tear gas cannisters through the windows into the home. Baker watched on video as her home was destroyed. The police blew the Baker’s garage door off and ran an armored vehicle over her fence. Before police could reach Little, he shot himself to death in the Baker’s bedroom.
Baker did not know the full extent of the damage until the next day when her daughter walked through the home capturing a video of it. Much of her belongings were ruined by tear gas. The windows were shattered. The garage door was in splinters. Over $50,000 worth of damage occurred. Baker was in the process of trying to sell her home to use the money to fund her retirement. That was no longer possible. The house was quickly taken off the market. She was devastated.
When she asked the city of McKinney to help her cover the costs, officials told her the city was not responsible. Her insurance provider would only cover the blood cleanup in the home. Represented by Jeffrey Redfern, attorney with the Institute for Justice, Baker filed suit against the city. The Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause prevents public use of private property without just compensation. The Texas Constitution also calls for adequate compensation when someone’s personal property is taken, damaged, or destroyed during government use. Recently, some lower courts have been making an exception to that rule, when the damage is done by the police.
When police blew up a man’s home in Colorado while trying to apprehend a shoplifting suspect, the homeowner sued for compensation. A federal appeals court told the homeowner he was not entitled to compensation since the police were preserving public safety. The Institute of Justice filed a motion in the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Court declined to hear the case.
Redfern holds that this interpretation is incorrect; intentional damage should be compensable. “It’s not about wrongdoing on the police’s part. It’s certainly not about holding any individual police officers liable. It’s just about what burdens should be borne by the public, and what burdens should be borne by random unlucky individuals,” he said.
Daniel Woislaw, attorney for libertarian public interest law firm Pacific Legal Foundation, said it sets a dangerous precedent when the government is not accountable for their actions. Those responsible see little need for restraint when dealing with people’s property. “The incentive structure that’s created when the government is not accountable for destroying or taking public property is they’re going to do that more, they’re going to be more destructive, they’re going to use more military equipment,” he said.
Baker received financial help from local businesses and the community. She borrowed on her future savings and ran up her credit cards. She was finally able to fix up the home and sell it for $10,000 under market value. Nonetheless, she continues her lawsuit, but not for herself. “I know there had to be a purpose for it all,” she stated. “There’s a reason for his lawsuit, and I don’t think it’s for me. I think it’s for others.”
McKinney Police Department declined to comment on a pending case. The city attorney stated that it would vigorously defend the actions of the police.
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