File Photo: A police helicopter hovers over the house where Desmonte Leonard was thought to be hiding.
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
More than a year after authorities surrounded a home in East Montgomery and heavily damaged it in search of wanted fugitive Desmonte Leonard, the homeowner is taking the matter to federal court.
Monday, owner Yakemi Ward filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Montgomery, two specific Montgomery police officers, U.S. Marshal Art Baylor, The United States of America and the U.S. Department of Justice. The specific officers are identified as Corporal H. Crosthwait and Lieutenant M. Tatum.
WSFA 12 News requested comment from the City of Montgomery and the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Both agencies said they had no comment on pending litigation.
The complaint outlines nine counts that range from excessive force to violation of civil rights and negligence of supervision in regards to the June 11, 2012 search.
Ward alleges that the U.S. Marshals and local authorities took the search for Leonard too far and destroyed the home recklessly and carelessly and are refusing to pay for the damages.
Leonard, who was the focus of a manhunt after a multi-homicide case in Auburn, was not found in the house despite hours of intense searching that focused on the attic. He later turned himself in from a location more than 50 miles from the capital city.
A tour of the house more than a month after the event showed the damage to be extensive. Insulation covered the house, which was being used as a rental home at the time, and large holes were punched in the ceilings.
The most damaging part, according to the owner, was through heavy use of pepper spray. Her attorney said at least 32 canisters were deployed in the house and that ceilings, wiring and flooring would have to be replaced. The home had to be gutted at a cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Ward, who filed a Tort claim in July 2012, was restricted under the Federal Tort Claims Act from bringing suit against the federal government for at least six months after the filing. That claim estimated the cost of the damage at more than $127,000 but were "subject to increase" based on the cost of removable of damage caused by tear gas.
She is asking that the defendants pay for the damages and legal fees.
Ward says her insurance company has paid for the renovation, despite standard insurance not covering damage done by law enforcement. She feels the incident could be detrimental to the future of her policy and she wants to repay the money to avoid having her coverage dropped.
WSFA 12 News will continue to follow developments in this case and share them as they become available.
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