COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina isn’t required to reimburse private property owners for damage by law officers doing their jobs, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The 3-2 ruling involves the takeover of a Spartanburg convenience store in 2004 by Jimmy Johnson, who took a clerk hostage and held off police for 13 hours. After trying tear gas and pepper spray, the officers ultimately used a bulldozer to end the standoff.
Johnson pleaded guilty to kidnapping and is serving a life sentence. The building was never used again. And when the owners refused to tear it down, the city demolished it.
Ruling against Carolina Convenience Stores, the justices said the police did not officially appropriate the building for government use before breaking into it with a bulldozer, and therefore don’t have to compensate the owners.
“The South Carolina Constitution does not contemplate that damage occasioned to private property by law enforcement in the course of performing their duties constitutes a compensable taking,” the court wrote.
In a dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Kaye Hearn wrote that, while she agreed that the city and its officers didn’t effectively take over ownership of the store, she disagreed that its owners should be left out to dry.
“The police damaged the convenience store so significantly as to ‘take’ the property from its owners, and this taking clearly served the public use of apprehending a dangerous suspect,” she wrote.
“Regardless of who is assigned fault for this act, faithful interpretation of our constitution demands compensation for the innocent individual.”