MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For the second time in less than a week, we are learning of a Minneapolis police officer who has been fired — and the department will not say why.
Officer Blayne Lehner, the subject of a police brutality lawsuit in federal court, was terminated last Friday.
The lawsuit claims he kicked a man who was handcuffed in the back of a squad car so hard that it knocked his teeth out and left the man’s jaw bone exposed.
The city of Minneapolis settled another brutality lawsuit against Lehner in 2012 for $85,000.
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis released a statement that said, “Blayne Lehner is an exceptional officer and federation board member.” And the federation has filed a grievance — the first step in a process that has gotten fired officers their jobs back in the past.
The federation has also filed a grievance in the firing of Officer Rod Webber, who was let go on the same day as Lehner. Webber can be heard in a cellphone video threatening to break a 17-year-old’s leg.
The officers can appeal their firings to an arbitrator under their collective bargaining agreement. The arbitrator decides whether or not the fired officer can get his job back after hearing the evidence.
Joe Daly is a veteran arbitrator who has handled more than 200 police cases.
“It’s always a judgement call,” Daly said.
He says the settlement of a prior brutality lawsuit against Lehner may not necessarily count against him because the city may have settled to limit legal costs.
Lehner’s personnel records show he has been investigated by Internal Affairs 28 different times since 2005. Twenty cases were closed with no discipline, two resulted in letters of reprimand, two others in suspension and four remain open.
Police would not release specifics of any of the 28 incidents, but we do know Lehner was investigated for a 2012 incident where a KSTP photographer was shoved and a news camera was damaged.
“None of these cases are open and shut,” Daly said. “Although his past disciplinary history is important, it’s not the be all and end all.”
But Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau released what she called a “general statement” that said in part that officers “will be held accountable if their actions are not consistent with our core values or the state’s Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.”
WCCO tried to get recent statistics from Minneapolis police on how often police firings are overturned, but we have not heard back from police officials.