An arbitrator has decided the city of Minneapolis was wrong to fire Minneapolis police officer Blayne Lehner earlier this year for using excessive force and ordered the city to rehire him, reduce his discipline to an unpaid suspension of 40 hours, and pay Lehner his lost compensation and benefits.
Lehner, an 18-year veteran, was fired in January for unspecified misconduct. The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the police union, appealed. Lehner is on the union’s board of directors.
According to the arbitrator’s recently released arbitration decision, dated Oct. 6, Chief Janeé Harteau fired Lehner over his handling of a domestic disturbance call in 2014 involving two women in south Minneapolis. The city said Lehner used excessive force in pushing one of the women to the ground, didn’t report the use of force and also called the woman a derogatory name.
The woman wasn’t injured.
The manager of the apartment building where the women were fighting complained to the police department, and provided copies of video from the building. Lehner was put on administrative leave last September.
According to the arbitrator’s ruling, Chief Harteau wrote in her termination memo that she had “lost all confidence in Officer Lehner’s ability to serve the citizens of Minneapolis due to his poor judgment and his lack of integrity.”
Arbitrator Stephen Befort concluded Lehner’s use of force was “on the mild side” and “not substantially inappropriate” given that the woman wasn’t being cooperative.
Officials haven’t yet decided when Lehner will report back to work or what job he’ll be assigned to, a Minneapolis police spokeswoman said. Lehner most recently had been a patrol officer in the 5th precinct.
The 40 hours of unpaid suspension will be deducted from Lehner’s back-pay when he returns, she said.
In a statement Tuesday, Chief Harteau said she was disappointed.
“These rulings hinder my ability, as a Police Chief, to create an effective culture of accountability within the Department,” Harteau said.
Union president Lt. Bob Kroll said the citizens of Minneapolis were lucky to have Lehner back, calling him “a very hardworking officer.”
Lehner, who declined to comment, has been accused of excessive force before. He and the city were sued in federal court last year by a young man alleging he was brutalized during a traffic stop in 2013.
The lawsuit alleged that while Luis Daniel Garcia was handcuffed, Lehner kicked the 18-year-old in the face, breaking his jaw and knocking out his two front teeth during a struggle. The city paid Garcia $360,000 to settle a claim of deliberate indifference.
Lehner paid $3,000 out of his own pocket to settle the excessive force claim against him because the city declined to represent or insure Lehner in Garcia’s lawsuit. An appeal is still pending regarding the city’s refusal to indemnify Lehner.