Public Interest Law Firm Calls on Austin City Officials to Compensate Innocent Couple Whose Home Was Destroyed During Botched SWAT Raid
Texas law requires the government to provide just compensation when it intentionally destroys people’s property
ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city officials in Austin, Texas, calling on them to pay just compensation to an innocent couple whose home suffered $23,000 worth of damage during a botched SWAT raid in August.
On August 6, Austin Police conducted a welfare check that went haywire, during which an officer was shot and injured. Mistaking where the gunfire came from, a SWAT team then raided the home across the street, which belongs to Glen and Mindy Shield, an innocent couple. The raid blew the Shields’ front door off the hinges, ruptured their gas line, and caused an estimated $23,000 worth of damage to the home. The Shields, who were home at the time of the raid, were also detained for three hours while the raid ensued.
When the Shields sought compensation for the destruction of their property, city officials claimed they were immune from paying up. But, as IJ’s letter explains, the city’s refusal to pay is not just unjust; it’s unconstitutional.
“Pursuing a fugitive or conducting a wellness check is a legitimate function for the police, but when they intentionally destroy innocent people’s property in that process, they cannot be above the rule ‘if you break it, you buy it,’” said IJ Attorney Jeffrey Redfern, the author of the letter. “Innocent bystanders, like the Shields, should not be left holding the bill when the government destroys private property.”
For more than 40 years, it has been established law in Texas that when law enforcement officers cause intentional damage to an innocent owner’s property while performing the duties of their job, the government must provide compensation. That precedent comes from a case called Steele v. City of Houston, in which police set fire to a house after fugitives barricaded themselves inside. The Texas Supreme Court held that such destruction was compensable destruction under the Texas Constitution and that “the Constitution itself is the authorization for compensation for the destruction of property.” Even the city of Austin’s own insurer has recently conceded that Steele is still good law.
“The takings clauses of both the United States and Texas Constitutions require that the public bear the cost of destruction done for a public service, not the unlucky property owner who happens to be the victim,” said Redfern.
IJ is the nation’s leading defender of property rights and has challenged similar refusals to compensate innocent owners when their property is destroyed by acts of government. In June of last year, a jury ruled IJ client Vicki Baker was entitled to nearly $60,000 after police in McKinney, Texas, destroyed her home while pursuing a fugitive. In July of this year, IJ filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a small business owner in Los Angeles who had his print shop ruined by a SWAT team after a fugitive evaded the police and broke into the shop. IJ also has a petition before the United States Supreme Court which seeks compensation for a family whose farm is destroyed every time it rains in Texas, because the government built a concrete barrier along a highway that causes the property to flood.