In July of last year, Vicki Baker, 75, was excited to move on to the next chapter of her life in Montana by selling her home she owned for 12 years in McKinney, Texas. That sale would never take place on schedule, however, because the day before she was supposed to close, a SWAT team destroyed it.
After destroying her home, Baker was told by local government that she was on the hook for the $50,000 bill to repair it. After fighting for a year, however, she may finally see some justice after a federal court ruled this month that Baker can sue for damages and get back some of the money it took her to undo the destruction caused by the cops.
“The court recognized that the city of McKinney is not exempt from the Constitution,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Jeffrey Redfern. “This is the first step towards Vicki getting her due, but it’s a big one. The government must compensate individuals when it deliberately destroys their property.”
“At the motion to dismiss stage, it would be imprudent to foreclose Baker’s ability to recover based on the shaky reasoning recited in non-binding cases from other circuits—especially when both the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court have alluded that a taking could result from destructive police power,” United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Judge Amos Mazzant III wrote in the decision to throw out the city’s motion to dismiss the case.
Baker’s nightmare started when she was out of town on July 25, 2020. Her daughter was home when a distraught construction worker—who had worked on the home before—decided to invade. Wesley Little, 50, had holed up in the home along with a 15-year-old girl he had abducted. When he came in the home, Vicki Baker’s daughter ran out, calling police in the process.
When police were contacted, Vicki asked them not destroy the home as she was closing on it the very next day. But they did not listen.
During the standoff, SWAT officers shot approximately 30 tear gas canisters into Baker’s property, blew up her garage door, and drove an armored vehicle over her fence.
Baker claims, and rightfully so, that cops went overboard on the damage they caused, completely disregarding any measures that could’ve limited the destruction to her home. For example, cops blew up her garage door to gain entry, despite being given a garage door opener.
As the Institute for Justice reports, the incident left Vicki in shock, too. When the smoke cleared, the home—which her daughter was living in and which was under contract to sell—was uninhabitable. The only living thing that survived the raid was her daughter’s dog, which was left deaf and blind from the explosions.
Though, Baker was in shock at the damage inflicted on her property, she took temporary solace in the fact that she didn’t cause the damage, so she wouldn’t be liable for it. Unfortunately, the comfort was short lived.
When she sought out compensation for the damage to her home, the city of McKinney and her homeowner’s insurance company told her that police had “immunity” and wouldn’t pay for a dime of the damage. A few days later, the buyer walked away and the sale fell through, according to IJ.
Vicki would go on to max out her credit cards to repair the damage—which was over $50,000—in order to sell the house in the winter. However, the sale was for far less money than the original contract back in July.
She then partnered with the Institute for Justice in a lawsuit against the city to sue them for damages caused by police to her home.
“In America, ‘if you break it, you buy it,’” said IJ Attorney Jeff Redfern at the time. “The McKinney SWAT team didn’t just break Vicki’s home—they destroyed it. Now it is time for them to pay for the damage they caused.”
“The United States and Texas Constitutions make it clear that when the government takes property, whether it’s for a road or in capturing a suspect on behalf of the public, the government must compensate the owner,” said Suranjan Sen, a Liberty and Law Fellow at the Institute for Justice. “Taking a fugitive off the streets benefits everyone, so the cost of the damages caused by the SWAT team should be borne by everyone, not Vicki alone.”
Citing the pending litigation, neither the McKinney police department nor the city would comment on the destruction of Vicki’s home.
“I appreciate that the police did what they thought was necessary to protect the community,” Baker said in a statement. “But it’s unfair to place the costs—replacing or redoing all of my flooring, the burst pipes, the damaged roof, the blown-out garage door, the broken doors, the toppled fence—on me, just because the guy happened to pick my house and not someone else’s.”
Luckily, for now, Baker may see some semblance of justice though the city will likely appeal this recent ruling.
“I’ve lost everything,” Baker told Reason last March. “I’ve lost my chance to sell my house. I’ve lost my chance to retire without fear of how I’m going to make my regular bills.”
While Vicki’s case is certainly shocking, it is not at all isolated. Just last September, Erika Pruiett in Denver had her home destroyed by SWAT. At the end of the raid, she and her baby were left homeless with no compensation.
As TFTP previously reported, a married couple claimed Fresno sheriff’s officers destroyed their house by using it as a training ground for a teargas-wielding SWAT team, 50 vehicles, two helicopters, a K-9 unit and a fire truck—because an unarmed homeless man had been found in their closet. Like Vicki, after attempting to seek compensation for their incredible loss for over 3 years, the Jessens were told last year that they can kick rocks, the government who destroyed their home, owes them jack squat.
This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.