The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 9, 2013

Alabama woman sues over police damage to home


Associated Press

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The owner of a home that was badly damaged during the search for a shooting suspect is suing to make the city of Montgomery and the federal government pay for thousands of dollars in repairs.

Yakemi Ward sued Monday over damage to the house where officers looked for Desmonte Leonard in June 2012 after three people were shot to death at an apartment complex near Auburn University.

The federal lawsuit said officers virtually destroyed the home as they fired tear gas canisters and punched holes in ceilings searching for Leonard during a manhunt that was televised nationally.

Only later did police determine that Leonard wasn't inside the home at the time; he surrendered at the federal courthouse and was arrested in a shooting that left three people dead in Auburn, including two former Auburn University football players.

Leonard, charged with three counts of murder and attempted murder, is awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty.

The lawsuit names as plaintiffs the city, two police officers who participated in the manhunt, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Department of Justice. It accuses authorities of violating Ward's civil rights, using excessive force, unlawfully seizing the house and other wrongdoing.

The city and the Justice Department declined comment Tuesday. U.S. Marshal Art Baylor did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Officials previously refused to pay for damage estimated at $127,000, WSFA-TV reported, but the lawsuit does not seek a specific amount.

Police surrounded a brick home in a Montgomery neighborhood on June 11, 2012, based on tips that Leonard was hiding inside. They swarmed the home with tear gas, spy gear and assault rifles and knocked holes in ceilings because they believed Leonard was hiding in the attic.

A tense, nine-hour search that drew national attention finally ended after authorities determined the man left the home before they ever arrived.

Ward's lawsuit said that while she owns the house, renters were living there at the time. The home was uninhabitable for a year after officers fired more than 30 tear gas canisters inside; ripped apart the heating and cooling system; and left insulation strewn throughout the residence, the lawsuit said.

The house had to be gutted because tear gas permeated building materials, according to the lawsuit.