Bay City landlord sues city, state after police damage building during standoff

BAY CITY, MI — Last October, police engaged in an hours-long standoff with a man who refused to be evicted from his Bay City apartment. Before it was all over with the man was in custody, police sprayed tear gas into the building and used a tank-like vehicle to ram the structure.

The building was left with tens of thousands of dollars in damage. With the insurance provider not covering it, the structure’s owner is suing Bay City and the State of Michigan, seeking a five-figure sum to repair his property.

“The landlord didn’t do anything wrong here, yet he’s got massive damage and a massive bill,” said attorney Philip L. Ellison. “The whole gist of the argument boils down to the government doesn’t get to destroy property to protect the public without compensation. If you want to destroy a building to get to the person you want to arrest, you’ve got to pay for the damage you cause.”

Landlord Anthony Banaszak, via Ellison, on June 23 filed his lawsuit in Bay County Circuit Court naming the city and state as defendants.

Banaszak owns a two-story apartment building at 212 Garfield Ave., the focus of the standoff that occurred Oct. 27, 2022. For months prior, Banaszak had been trying to evict tenant Harold L. Nielsen, now 78, only for Nielsen to leave numerous threatening notes on his door.

When Banaszak and a court officer went to Nielsen’s unit on Oct. 10 to serve him eviction papers, Nielsen allegedly brandished a large butcher knife and metal rod and repeatedly threatened to kill them. With a resulting warrant for Nielsen’s arrest, the court officer and Bay City police returned to the apartment around 12:40 p.m. on Oct. 27.

They arrived to find Nielsen had apparently barricaded his front door. According to the lawsuit and police reports, Banaszak and an employee of his agreed to pull down a portion of drywall from the adjoining apartment so officers could see inside Nielsen’s.

Police looked through the gap and saw Nielsen with a knife. They ordered him to put it down, at which point he tossed it at an officer, the lawsuit and police reports state.

With Nielsen no longer armed, an officer told him he was under arrest, the suit states.

“Despite Nielsen then being fully disarmed, another officer … sprayed tear gas into the interior of (his) apartment and did so without the permission or authority of either Nielsen or Plaintiff Anthony Banaszak,” the suit states.

An officer then announced Nielsen had a gun, causing police to retreat from the apartment building and summon the Michigan State Police Emergency Support Team for assistance. As they waited the EST’s arrival, local officers evacuated the building of other residents.

Once the EST arrived, personnel called out on a megaphone for Nielsen to surrender. When that did not work, the EST and local police “decided to storm the house using highly destructive methods,” Ellison wrote in the suit.

The EST used a BearCat armored rescue vehicle to ram the building’s south wall and windows, though that area did not provide access to Nielsen’s unit, Ellison wrote. Police also discharged “dozens of rounds of highly noxious chemical irritants into the Garfield Avenue House despite the same not being connected to or otherwise would reach Nielsen’s apartment.”

Walls, windows, and other elements of the structure were left broken or destroyed, with the chemicals remaining after police cleared the scene, Ellison wrote. Once Nielsen was in custody, officers learned he did not in fact have a gun and that officers may have mistaken a metal pipe he brandished for one.

“Remediation is required to clean the entire house due to the tear gas and highly noxious chemical irritants,” the suit states.

The suit contains four counts — declaratory and injunctive relief, violation of the Fifth Amendment’s protection against taking private property without just compensation, inverse condemnation, and violating the state constitution’s protection against the taking of private property. Banaszak is seeking a minimum $25,000 through the suit.

“It’s our position (the police) committed a taking of property,” Ellison told MLive. “They destroyed it to arrest Nielsen and didn’t clean up or offer a neutralizing agent for the irritants.”

Nielsen was subsequently charged with four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assaulting, resisting, or obstructing police. The former charge is a four-year felony, while the latter is a two-year felony.

In January, Bay County District Judge Mark E. Janer found Nielsen incompetent to participate in court proceedings, based on an evaluation from staff at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Ypsilanti. The judge committed Nielsen to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for inpatient treatment to restore his competency.

Janer is to review Nielsen’s latest treatment report on July 13.

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Read more from MLive:

Bay City man charged in standoff with police over eviction found incompetent for trial

Bay City man charged in lengthy standoff with police over eviction notice to undergo psych eval

Bay City man, 77, faces felonies after hours-long standoff with police over eviction notice

Eviction notice sparks police standoff in Bay City’s South End

Judge has dire prediction for Bay City man jailed for hitting female roommate with a bat

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