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A Montana woman's Texas home was destroyed by SWAT. Then the city refused to pay for damages

Vicki Baker watched across the state, as another home got destroyed recently during a standoff in Sheridan, Wyoming. So we asked; 'Who is liable for damages?'
Posted at 5:52 PM, Feb 20, 2024

BILLINGS - When Vicki Baker moved to Montana in the summer of 2020, it was a chance to start fresh.

“Here I was just moving to a new state, trying to start all over again,” said Baker.

She left behind a home on the market in McKinney, Texas, where her daughter was living and looking after the place.

She says a serious buyer was about ready to seal the deal.

But that’s when the nightmare started.

“It was a horrific time of my life,” she said. “And so, I know what it feels like to have your world destroyed.”

After what happened this week in Sheridan, Wyoming, Baker has been closely watching developments from across Montana at her new home in Lakeside. A once perfectly good home was condemned in Sheridan after a 30-hour standoffwith police last week, following the murder of Sheridan police officer Nevada Krinkee.

Baker knows the situation all too well.

“I guess I always said the damages were between $70k and $80k when you included all of the things that I lost,” she said.

Upon her move to Montana, Baker says she got a call from her daughter that a fugitive took a 15-year-old hostage and took refuge in her home. Luckily her daughter got out of the house in time.

Baker says her daughter immediately called her and then notified police.

“It was like a 7- or 8-hour standoff,” said Baker. “He told police he was not coming out alive and that he did have weapons on him.”

The fugitive eventually ended his own life, but in the process, Baker’s house was destroyed.

“They call it shock and awe to confuse the perpetrator so that he doesn’t know which direction they are coming,” she explained.

She says police broke out windows, rammed her newly installed fence and repeatedly threw tear gas canisters into the house to drive the fugitive out.

Her home was ruined.

“That tear gas gets inside all the electrical units, everything. They had to pull everything down,” she said.

Police used an armored vehicle called a Bearcat. They used explosives to blow through her garage door. More than 30 explosive canisters were found throughout the home.

The commotion left Baker’s daughter’s dog deaf and blind from the explosions.

The damage was similar to what happened in recent incidents closer to Billings.

In Sheridan, police used an excavator to try and flush out fugitive, William Lowery, leaving the home of Karo Hamilton looking more like a dollhouse than a home.

In March in Billings, police also used demolition tactics and a fire hoseto remove Mary White Crane from her Billings Heights trailer home after a shooting that injured a Billings police officer.

“People think their insurance covers something like this,” said Jeffrey Redfern, an attorney representing Baker.

When Baker’s insurance wasn’t an option, she tried recouping damages from the city of McKinney.

“They told me that they’re not liable that they have complete immunity,” said Baker. “And I was told by the city manager, you won’t see a dime.”

The sale of Baker’s Texas home quickly fell through. She says as she assessed the situation up in Montana, distraught and on a retired income she got a call from Redfern, who is with the Institute for Justice.

“A lot of cities will look at this like a tort claim,” said Redfern. “And they say, the police did everything right, so we aren’t on the hook.”

Redfern says when it came to Baker’s legal battle, they took a different approach, arguing instead through eminent domain.

“This is a taking, just like it the government used eminent domain to take your house," he said.

Redfern and the Institute of Justice are trying to get the word out about Baker's case.

“It’s been pretty controversial,” he said. “But we don’t think one unlucky individual like Vicki Baker, should have to bear that burden for all of society.”

Baker’s case is currently in appeal after an initial win in trial court, according to Redfern. But he believes as more properties get caught in the crossfire of police standoffs, there could be legal precedence.

“I could no longer work; I could no longer make the paycheck that I was making. I was retired,” she said.

Baker eventually sold her home to a family from Montana. Redfern said he anticipates filing a petition on the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.