A federal jury ruled Wednesday that Vicki Baker is entitled to $59,656.59 in damages after a SWAT team destroyed her McKinney, Texas, home while pursuing a fleeing fugitive in July 2020. The ruling is a victory for Vicki, who joined forces with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit in March 2021, after the city refused to pay for the damage that had been caused.
“My priority has always been to make sure that cities like McKinney cannot treat other people the way I’ve been treated,” Vicki said. “I expect today’s victory to send a message to governments across the country that they have to pay for what they break.”
“Pursuing a fugitive is a legitimate government interest, but if the government deliberately destroys innocent people’s property in the process, those people must be compensated,” added IJ Attorney Will Aronin.
Today’s decision comes just weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant III ruled that the destruction of Vicki’s home was a “taking” that required the city to pay just compensation. On April 29, Judge Mazzant rejected the city of McKinney’s argument that police action should be categorically exempt from the general requirement that government pay for property it destroys, holding that the argument “rests on an untenable analysis of police power and eminent domain.” Because “the destruction to Baker’s home was intentional and foreseeable,” compensation was required, he ruled.
“The April 29 decision marks a sea change in the law,” said IJ Attorney Jeffrey Redfern. “Everyone agrees with the general proposition that the government has to pay for the property it takes, but courts across the country had held that this rule just did not apply to the police. But the police are part of the government, which this victory makes abundantly clear.”
While Judge Mazzant’s ruling held that Vicki was entitled to compensation, the jury today also found that the city of McKinney’s refusal to pay Vicki violated her civil rights, which makes the city liable under federal civil-rights law as well.
“Simply put, Vicki had a right to be compensated for her losses, and she had a right to get that compensation without having to sue first,” said IJ Law and Liberty Fellow Suranjan Sen.
This saga began in July 2020, when a fugitive hid out in Vicki’s house while she was not home. When Vicki’s daughter informed the police that the fugitive was in Vicki’s home, they arrived on the scene and a standoff ensued. Vicki’s fence was knocked down, doors were smashed and windows were shattered with tear gas canisters.
Vicki’s insurance company refused to pay for the damage caused by the government, and the city of McKinney refused to pay as well. Today, a federal jury found that the total amount of damage the city caused was $59,565.59 and ordered the city to finally make Vicki whole.
“Respecting private property means government has to pay for the property it destroys,” concluded IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock, “and that’s true whether the government official destroying your home has a business card from the Roads Department or the Police Department. Today’s ruling makes all Americans more secure in their property and in the homes they have worked so hard to own.”