Updated: June 25, 2020 10:14 PM
Created: June 25, 2020 08:46 PM
A now-former Minneapolis police officer who the department tried to fire twice over his long history of excessive force cases will now remain fired.
An arbitration ruling — which was decided in November of 2019, but only made public on Thursday — found that the Minneapolis Police Department was justified to fire Blayne Lehner for kicking an 18-year-old handcuffed man in the face, breaking his jaw and nose and knocking out two teeth in December 2013.
The department’s internal affairs investigation into the incident took nearly seven years because it was temporarily paused when Lehner was fired for a separate excessive force case.
But after Lehner won his job back in arbitration in 2016, internal affairs re-started its investigation for the kicking incident. It found the use of force was not justified. Lehner was on paid leave for nearly four years until he was fired the second time in February 2019.
In upholding Lehner’s termination, arbitrator Stephen Befort said, “This pattern of continued use of force violations poses a significant problem for the MPD. This conduct damages police-community relations and subjects the city to the potential of significant liability.”
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Lehner had already cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs.
Luis Daniel Garcia-Pineda, the handcuffed man who Lehner kicked in the face, sued in the department in 2015. The city settled for $85,000, and the case ultimately triggered the department to take a closer look at Lehner’s conduct.
“Well, it took long enough,” said Eric Hageman, the attorney representing Garcia-Pineda in the case. “I mean, it’s been six years since the incident happened. And it’s shocking that it did take that long given the egregiousness of what happened.”
Lehner’s case is another example of the complexities of the arbitration system, and it’s why MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo is championing major changes to the system as part of police reform measures in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association also supports an overhaul to arbitration, but any significant changes would be up to the state legislature.
“When people talk about how difficult it is to fire police officers and how we need to reform the arbitration system to make it easier to fire police officers, I mean officer Lehner is Exhibit A. Because they tried to terminate him for a number of different offenses and kept running into roadblocks.”
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