A frantic chase for a suspect leads to Tampa police tearing down a family's wooden fence. But when it came time to pay for the damage, the city said it had no liability.
The city had the family fill out paperwork and file a claim, then denied that claim, saying police tearing down their fence was "a protected activity of government."
“Two o'clock in the morning, I’m hearing yelling and shouting,” Davina DeVries said, describing the night her fence was damaged.
“We had at least six cop cars,” said her husband, Dan DeVries.
Multiple officers, K-9 units and a helicopter joined in the search for William Contreras Cepeda, who was spotted casing out cars at a Tampa apartment complex Jan. 15.
The suspect ran across the parking lot, jumped over two fences, then climbed onto a piece of children's play equipment.
Meanwhile, the cops who were chasing him ended up taking down the fence on the other side of the yard.
“They just ripped it straight down. Then they started running through here with flashlights,” Dan DeVries said.
“They were dragging the bad guy out of the playhouse and throwing him on the ground,” Davina DeVries said.
After the suspect was arrested, the DeVries discovered five fence posts were broken and a large section of fence laid on the ground.
“All of the officers that were here on the site, they were all very apologetic,” said Davina DeVries.
The DeVries got estimates.
“I have two estimates…$850, $150 of that is just for the permit alone,” said Dan DeVries.
They also submitted a claim to the city.
Weeks later, they got a letter saying the city was not liable under common law, since officers "were performing their duties in pursuit and apprehension of armed suspects."
“I'm thinking how can you not be liable for the damage? You tore down my fence,” Davina DeVries said.
In the letter, the city offered a "good faith gesture" of $300 to repair the fence, if they signed a release.
That’s something the DeVries are refusing to do, since they had nothing to do with their fencing being broken.
“You guys need to pay up,” said Dan DeVries.
“I'm just like everybody else. I have to work for my money. And most of the time, my money is earmarked for something else. It's gonna take me a long time to be able to afford to fix that fence,” said Davina DeVries.
We reached out of a police department spokesperson, who said the process was handled properly, and the $300 offered by the city was a fair resolution.
The city suggested the DeVries seek restitution from the suspect, but by the time they got the letter, it was too late. His case was already resolved in court and the judge didn't require him to pay for damages.
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