LOS ANGELES—Today, a North Hollywood small business owner joined forces with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a federal lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Los Angeles after a SWAT team destroyed his business last August.
On August 3, 2022, NoHo Printing and Graphics owner Carlos Pena was at his shop when he heard a helicopter flying overhead and someone shouting into a megaphone outside. When he approached the door to see what was going on, an armed fugitive who was fleeing from the U.S. Marshals threw Carlos out and ran into Carlos’s shop to hide out. The Marshals then initiated a standoff before a SWAT team from the Los Angeles Police Department arrived and fired more than 30 rounds of teargas into the business. Carlos—who waited in a nearby restaurant for 13 hours as his 31-year-old business was being destroyed—estimates that the raid caused more than $60,000 in damage.
Making matters worse, Carlos’ insurance would not cover the damage from the standoff because the government caused the damage. Nor would the U.S. Marshals—after all, it was the city’s SWAT team that destroyed the property. But when Carlos reached out to the city about compensation, they ignored his pleas—leaving an innocent man holding the bill for tens of thousands of dollars in damage to his small business.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was told that I wouldn’t be paid for the damage,” said Carlos. “The business I had worked so hard to build was completely destroyed and I was left with the bill, even though I did nothing wrong.”
When Carlos was finally allowed to return to his business, two days after the raid, the damage was breathtaking. There were holes blasted in the doors, windows, and ceiling. All the machinery used in the printing process was destroyed by the chemicals in the tear gas. And against all odds, the fugitive still managed to escape the building, evading police in the process.
“Pursuing dangerous fugitives is a legitimate government function, and unfortunately sometimes that will lead to the destruction of innocent people’s property. But when that happens, the government can’t just shrug and say, ‘tough luck.’ It must compensate the victim,” said IJ Attorney Jeff Redfern.
Over his years in business, Carlos has received rave reviews for producing high quality banners, signs, shirts, headshots, and much more. But a few months after the raid, Carlos told local media he lost 80 percent of his income, had to empty out his savings account, and was considering selling his house, just to stay afloat.
“Nobody should have to go through what Carlos has gone through the past 11 months,” said IJ Attorney Suranjan Sen. “Carlos has done everything right throughout this entire process, and he’s still being left to foot the bill for damage that was not his fault and that represents a service to the public. This isn’t just wrong, it’s unconstitutional. The Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause ensures that public burdens, like catching a fugitive, should be borne by the public as a whole, not unlucky, innocent individuals.”
IJ is the nation’s premier defender of property rights. In June 2022, a jury ruled that the city of McKinney, Texas must pay nearly $60,000 to a woman whose home was destroyed by a SWAT team, following IJ’s lawsuit. IJ currently represents a Texas farmer who is seeking compensation after the state built a concrete barrier along a highway that causes devastating floods on his farm. IJ also represented the property owners in the now infamous Supreme Court ruling Kelo v. New London, which led to states throughout the country reforming their eminent domain laws to prevent property rights abuses.