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Inside Lawsuit Over House Destroyed by SWAT Team

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In the late spring of 2015, a home in Greenwood Village was utterly destroyed after Robert Seacat, a suspected Walmart shoplifter, took refuge inside and refused to come out for nearly twenty hours.

In the wake of this bizarre episode, the trio that had been living in the residence — John Lech, who was renting the home from his father, Leo Lech, as well as Anna Mumzhiyan, his then-significant other, and her nine-year-old son, D.Z. — gained widespread sympathy for the resulting architectural catastrophe. And after a storm of criticism, Greenwood Village officials publicly pledged to lend a hand.

Problem is, their offer topped out at just $5,000 — an amount deemed "unconscionable" in a new lawsuit that demands that the city make up for the damage the SWAT officers did.

There was plenty of it. The document, on view below, describes the destruction in startling detail, with allusions to drug-filled hypodermics presumably left behind by Seacat, dogs covered in teargas, and the loss of priceless family possessions. And that's not to mention the toll it took on the people involved.

In the words of Rachel Maxam, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case, "They put an entire family out on the street and destroyed their lives — and they didn't seem to care."

On June 3, 2015, as outlined by the suit, Seacat fled the Greenwood Village Walmart pursued by police. He subsequently holed up at the Lech house, a location apparently chosen at random.

At the time, only D.Z. was home, but he managed to get away within minutes — and lucky thing, since all hell broke loose shortly thereafter. According to the suit, the tools used to dislodge Seacat, who was armed and reportedly fired at officers, included 40mm rounds, explosives, tear gas and flash-bang grenades, one of which was so badly thrown that it bounced back toward assorted cops, "forcing them to scatter."

In the end, a total of "68 cold chemical munitions and four hot gas munitions" were launched into the Lech home, with some of them getting stuck in the walls. Holes were also blasted through the windows and doors even before the deployment of a battering ram.

After Seacat was taken into custody, the suit maintains, John, Anna and D.Z. were told the home sustained "some damage." That turned out to be a mammoth understatement. The residence wound up being condemned, and the three lost "all but a few of their personal belongings, including clothing, toys, basic household items, furniture, appliances and other personal effects" such as a treasured ring and a family heirloom that survived World War II in Italy but not the Greenwood Village SWAT team.

The suit also says the city failed to clear the scene of "projectiles and other hazards," including a "hypodermic needle containing an unknown dark substance" that nearly jabbed Leo Lech. (Another hypo was found later amid "a pile of debris.") Moreover, the lingering chemicals caused nausea and sinus congestion for Lech and company — property inspectors wore hazmat suits when they looked around — and the "two highly trained hunting dogs" kept on the property were so shell-shocked that it's doubtful they'll react to gunfire without freaking out ever again.

Because of the dogs, John, Anna and D.Z. had to move to Leo's house in Douglas County, thirty miles south of their old place. This decision forced John to take a new job at a lower salary, since driving to his previous gig downtown would have required a two-hour commute, and D.Z. had to change schools and leave his friends behind, compounding the trauma he'd experienced.

To attorney Maxam, the $5,000 Greenwood Village eventually pledged doesn't come anywhere close to adequate compensation — but holding the city accountable in court won't be easy. The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act restricts suits against a government entity such as a municipality, and complaints against individuals can only succeed if they're found to have acted willfully and wantonly, she points out. However, the city can be sued directly in federal court; the lawsuit is now before U.S. District Court after an initial filing in Arapahoe County Court.

The case could break new ground. Before filing, Maxam did research to determine if a similar matter had been adjudicated anywhere in the country, and nothing she found came close to the level of mayhem inflicted on the Lech home.

At the same time, however, she sees the incident as "part of a larger pattern of disproportional responses by police — not dealing with situations properly and escalating force rather than de-escalating."

As Maxam notes, "Greenwood Village maintains that what they did was proper and in the interest of the public good in protecting lives. But it's disingenuous in light of the fact that they had no regard for the welfare or rights of individuals, and of this family in particular."

Here's the lawsuit in its entirety.

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