BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
It has been well-publicized that a private home in the Cherry Creek Village North neighborhood of Greenwood Village was severely damaged during an 18-hour standoff between a known felon and law enforcement in June 2015, largely resulting from tactics used by police in an effort to apprehend the suspect without any loss of life. The house and its owners had absolutely no relationship to the criminal who randomly chose it as a place in which to barricade himself and resist arrest.
At the time of the incident, Leo Lech, who owns the home with his wife Alfonsina, was renting it to his son and his son’s girlfriend, who lived there with her 9-year old son. The Greenwood Village police department (GVPD) commanded the law enforcement response at the scene, which included officers from multiple jurisdictions.
After the incident ended when SWAT officers were finally able to take the suspect into custody, after which he was transported to the hospital by ambulance for treatment due to having used and also ingested large amounts of methamphetamine during the 18-hour ordeal, Lech looked to the City of Greenwood Village to pay for the extensive damage to his home. While the homeowner’s loss was huge and his reaction understandable, both the United States district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, whose opinion was issued on October 29, have agreed that the city is not liable for the cost of the damage to his property because it occurred while GV was acting “pursuant to its police powers…while attempting to enforce the criminal law” to maintain public safety in an emergency. The appeals court’s 17-page opinion can be read at https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/18/18-1051.pdf.
In the days just following the incident, Greenwood Village offered the Lech family $5,000 to cover their immediate living expenses. After first accepting the offer, the family later refused it when they realized it cam e with a promise not to sue the city. Instead, they sued GV and 11 of its police officers individually. Although they have now lost their case in two different courts, fortunately they have received compensation for their property damage from their insurance company.
The home was purchased for $296,000 by Leo and Alfonsina Lech in January 2013. Its assessed actual value in 2014, the year just before the incident, was $284,100, according to the Arapahoe County Treasurer’s office. The Lechs received $345,000 in compensation for their loss from their insurance company. Understandably, they demolished what was left of the house and rebuilt it, including a new foundation. Its current value, according to the Arapahoe County Assessor, is $550,300.
The Incident and the standoff
Greenwood Village police (GVPD) were notified by their dispatch center at 1:40 p.m. on a quiet Wednesday afternoon in early June 2015 that City of Aurora police (APD) were pursuing a suspect who had tried to run over a uniformed police officer in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart at 9400 E. Hampden Avenue in Aurora. After fleeing the scene, the suspect had driven to the RTD Light Rail station at 4050 S. Dallas Street, where he had abandoned his car and changed his shirt, presumably to help avoid apprehension. Now on foot, the suspect was reported by a bystander at the light rail station to have placed a compact semi-automatic .380 caliber pistol in his pants and had been observed climbing over a fence to get onto I-225. He was next seen crossing lanes of fast-moving traffic while dodging cars as he attempted to get one to stop, before making it across the highway and climbing over another fence that landed him in Greenwood Village. GVPD was not aware, nor would it have mattered, that the fleeing suspect and a female companion had been reported to have been observed shoplifting earlier at the Wal-Mart.
The suspect, later identified as Robert Seacat, soon broke into a random home (owned by the Lechs) located just on the other side of I-225, in Greenwood Village, which he used as a barricade and position from which to shoot at police officers during the next 18 hours, while SWAT teams from GVPD, APD, and Arapahoe and Douglas Counties took numerous steps and used multiple methods to try to get him to come out and surrender. Police negotiated with him when they could get him to respond over his cell phone. When he demanded to speak to his sister, they brought her from Boulder. They brought his wife to the scene to plead with him to come out. They shot multiple rounds of tear gas into the house. None of those tactics worked to get him to emerge.
At 10:40 p.m., after not getting any response from Seacat for hours, a GVPD tactical team went into the house. As they walked up the stairs, Seacat started shooting at them from the second floor. They retreated.
After 18 hours of failing to get Seacat to effectively communicate, negotiate, or surrender, members of the Arapahoe County and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office SWAT teams, who had taken over from GVPD and APD SWAT officers, used an armored vehicle to breach the house so they could go inside the home and locate and apprehend the suspect without getting fired upon.
Seacat was found armed and barricaded inside an upstairs bathroom. He did not give up. Officers had to overpower him to take him into custody, after which he was transported by ambulance to the hospital. He suffered severe medical complications due to having actively used a large amount of methamphetamine over the course of the incident and also ingested multiple bags of it, which were leaking into his system. It is now believed that the drugs, which were in his backpack or on his person when he entered the house, contributed to him ignoring the tear gas and irrationally failing to surrender.
Already a wanted felon at the time of the standoff, Seacat, then age 35, was convicted in April 2018 of 17 more felonies arising from this incident, including 11 counts of attempted manslaughter and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. He was also found to be a habitual criminal, resulting in him being sentenced to 100 years in state prison.
Within days after the standoff, Greenwood Village commissioned an incident review by the National Tactical Officer’s Association (NTOA), which is the “premier law enforcement professional organization with a specific focus on tactics and police response to critical incidents.” After reviewing reports and recordings and conducting site visits to the incident and command post locations, as well as conducting interviews with command staff, supervisors, and other personnel who were involved in the episode from GVPD, APD, Arapahoe County and Douglas County Sheriff’s Offices, the18th Judicial District Attorney’s office, and South Metro Fire Rescue, the NTOA concluded that “the personnel engaged in this operation acted in a highly commendable manner and…the overall result of their performance was a resounding success… notwithstanding the regrettable damage and loss of property that was incurred by the (completely innocent) homeowner.”
The complete14-page NTOA report is posted on the GV website at https://greenwoodvillage.com/DocumentCenter/View/14272/Incident-Review-3?bidId= . While it noted several areas where procedures should be reviewed and improved, it gave high praise to the efforts made by law enforcement personnel who “accomplished their mission safely, while demonstrating considerable restraint and commendable reverence for human life.”
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