The police spent 18 hours blowing up this man’s house to catch a shoplifter


In June of 2015, Reason reports, a man named Robert Jonathan Seacat shoplifted from a Denver area Walmart. He stole a shirt and two belts and then fled, first by car and then on foot, before breaking into a nearby home to hide inside.
Seacat was known to have one gun on him, and officers claimed he shot at them, but after the fact, investigators didn’t find evidence he’d fired that weapon or the two other guns that were already in the house. That’s perhaps because, as would later be discovered when police eventually took Seacat into custody, he was by that time probably feeling awful, as he had allegedly swallowed a container of methamphetamine that began to leak into his body.

The house had a security system that alerted the police of the break-in, and the cops arrived armed to the teeth. As court documents show, “50 SWAT officers” assaulted the house using “40 mm rounds, tear gas, flashbang grenades, two armored Bearcats [a type of armored vehicle] and breaching rams,” plus “68 cold chemical munitions and four hot gas munitions.”

And they used all of it to totally destroy this home. Their harebrained plan was to blow up every room, one by one, to herd Seacat into a corner of the house so police could be certain of his location. This process was ineffective as well as counterproductive: It created so much rubble that a police robot was not able to deliver a phone to Seacat for negotiations.

How bad was the home by the time the cops were finished? So, so, so bad:

[A] description of the damage can be gleaned from the orders of Dustin Varney, the commanding officer during the raid. During the standoff, Varney authorized the team to “take as much of the building as needed, without making the roof fall.” Varney’s self-fulfilling prophecy materialized almost exactly as he commanded. Almost every window and external door was a wide gaping hole after the raid. Pieces of household items — furniture, appliances, clothing — blended into the piles of building debris in the front and back yards. The young boy’s bedroom, still sporting childhood artwork on the walls, was fully exposed to the elements after a grenade detonated inside of it, leaving a 10-foot hole in the external wall. The backyard fence was partially toppled by a Bearcat used to breach the back door.

This response would be overkill given the circumstances of the case, even if the home belonged to the suspect. (It is noteworthy that the standoff finally ended when police gave up on the explosives after about 18 hours and sent a team inside instead. They captured Seacat alive in 30 minutes flat.)

But remember, this wasn’t Seacat’s house. It belonged to a man named Leo Lech, someone who had nothing to do with Seacat’s crime. He had been renting it to his son, who lived there with his girlfriend and her 9-year-old son.

After the raid, the city condemned Lech’s home, deeming it too damaged to repair, and gave him just $5,000 to cover the destruction police had wrought. Needless to say, Lech is suing for more. Reason predicts his case could make it to the Supreme Court in part because of the constitutional issues involved (government destruction of private property without due process).

Also at issue is militarized policing. Lech called the ruins of the home “an abomination,” grimly joking that it probably looked worse than Osama bin Laden’s compound after the U.S. military was done with it.

That comparison is sadly accurate, as the cops literally used military gear on his home. I’ve written at Rare and at The Week about the overuse of SWAT teams and the danger of encouraging police to treat their interactions with the public like war. Lech’s case is only the latest of far too many examples of overly aggressive policing ruining people’s property and lives.