SWAT Raid Causes Big Problem for Small Business
Carlos Pena is facing a nightmare that is sadly becoming more common across the United States. A Los Angeles SWAT team destroyed his business while pursuing a fugitive who had no connection to Carlos whatsoever. When he asked the city to compensate him for the damage so that he could get his small, family-owned business running again, the city told him, “Tough luck.”
This summer, IJ filed a federal case on Carlos’ behalf. We intend to teach Los Angeles the same lesson that we taught a small Texas town last year: When the government intentionally destroys innocent people’s property, even for legitimate reasons, it must compensate them.
Carlos’ ordeal began last August while he was working in his store, NoHo Printing and Graphics, a print shop that he has owned and operated for 30 years. Carlos heard a commotion outside. When he opened the door, he was shocked to see running toward him a man pursued by armed law enforcement officers. The fugitive struck Carlos on the shoulder, threw him out of the store, and then barricaded himself inside. After a 13-hour standoff, a Los Angeles SWAT team assaulted the store, firing over 30 rounds of tear gas grenades. The grenades tore through walls, doors, and the ceiling. The gas permeated everything in the store, including delicate commercial printing equipment. Worse, the fugitive had already snuck out of the store by this time.
Carlos estimates that it will cost at least $60,000 to repair and replace his equipment. His insurance policy, as is typical, does not cover damage caused by the government, and the city has refused to compensate him, saying that its officers acted reasonably. Carlos has been reduced to operating his business out of his garage with a single, secondhand printer that a generous individual sold him at a discount. But he has lost at least 80% of his business. He had hoped to pass the shop on to his son one day, but he now fears that he may never be able to rebuild it.
In recent years, IJ has uncovered more and more cases like Carlos’. Although many cities voluntarily pay for property damage caused by their police, others refuse. In August 2022, IJ won a $60,000 jury verdict on behalf of Vicki Baker, a woman whose home was destroyed by a McKinney, Texas, SWAT team that was pursuing a fugitive. The court in that case explained that the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment “was designed” to prevent government “from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.”
In other words, law enforcement is a public good, and the public should pay for it. If the government takes your house to build a road, it has to pay you. As IJ will remind Los Angeles, the same rule applies if the government destroys your house to catch a criminal.
Jeffrey Redfern is an IJ attorney.
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