Ex-Minneapolis cop had history of kicking people in the face

By: - December 18, 2020 9:01 am

Security video show Minneapolis Police Officer Blayne Lehner pushing a woman down in her apartment building in August 2014. His termination for the use of force would be overturned by an arbitrator.

Newly released disciplinary records detail five instances of excessive force by ex-police officer Blayne Lehner, whose misconduct was outlined in a Reformer investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department published earlier this week.

The city of Minneapolis provided the documents following a public records request filed in October. The records show that in less than a year, Lehner kicked two men and a woman in the face, pushed down a television journalist and pushed a woman by the throat during a protest.

Together, the cases resulted in 35 hours of suspension and a letter of reprimand, while the city paid out $85,000 to one victim. But the department didn’t take Lehner off the street and didn’t resolve one case for nearly five years.

The lengthy delays in the disciplinary process and failure to prevent future wrongdoing are consistent with the Reformer’s previous reporting on 195 other disciplinary files, published this week in a story called “The Bad Cops.

An attorney for Lehner previously declined to comment on his disciplinary record and was not immediately available for comment as of press time.

On September 13, 2011, Lehner kicked his way into a house in Minneapolis without a warrant and then kicked a man in the torso and face, according to the documents. Lehner was responding to a 911 call of a person with a gun when he pulled up to a house near Chicago and Franklin Avenues and saw a man holding a “black object.”

He got out of the squad car and detained the man on the porch while other people went inside. Lehner would tell investigators that he believed the man passed the gun to another man who went in the house. Despite not knowing if any of the people present could lawfully possess a gun, Lehner and another officer kicked in the door. Once inside, Lehner said another man, Mauricio McKinney, came toward him and Lehner kicked him in his torso and face. Another officer, Terry Nutter, kicked the man several more times in the head, knocking him unconscious. McKinney came to in handcuffs. Police never recovered a gun at the scene and no one was charged with a crime. McKinney sued the city and later settled for $85,000.

Several months after that, on April 7, 2012, Lehner pushed a TV photographer’s camera off his shoulder during a protest, which twisted the man’s arm and caused him to fall, according to disciplinary files. A sergeant had told his officers before heading out to the protest that “We do not want to make this story about the Minneapolis Police Department.” But the scene was captured on film, which was then broadcast on several local television stations.

A lieutenant on the scene was so alarmed when he saw Lehner’s behavior that he reported it to the incident commander, and the cameraman filed a complaint with the department. When he was interviewed by an investigator, Lehner claimed the journalist was in the way and needed to push through him to arrest another person videotaping the protest.

A couple weeks after that, on April 27, Lehner kicked a woman in the head, according to disciplinary documents. He was responding to a report that a woman had a knife and was threatening other people. He entered her apartment, gun drawn, and told the woman to put the knife down. She did. He then told her to get off the phone and get away from the knife, but she replied “f**k off.”

Lehner said he then kicked her in the face so he could keep his gun drawn. He then pulled her by the hair and handcuffed her. The woman never threatened Lehner — Lehner would tell investigators he didn’t give her the chance — but he and his partner both said it was a “deadly force situation.” The woman was never convicted of a crime related to the incident.

A month after that, on May 29, Lehner pushed a female protester by the throat and then sprayed mace into a crowd of demonstrators. He did not report the use of force and the department only began investigating it once the video was posted online.

For that incident, a disciplinary panel recommended Lehner be referred to what’s known as “coaching,” which the city considers a non-disciplinary system for improving performance. However, it has been criticized for allowing serious incidents to be swept under the rug. In a letter written more than a year after the incident, Deputy Chief Travis Glampe rejected the disciplinary panel’s recommendation and insisted on a suspension.

“Grabbing someone by the front of the neck is not an appropriate method of force for the level of resistance presented by the protester. If Officer Lehner’s level of concern was to the point where such force was necessary, his actions certainly do not reflect it. He is looking everywhere but at that the target of his force,” Glampe wrote.

A week after that incident, on June 6, Lehner would kick a man in his car once in the face and twice in the torso, according to disciplinary documents. It happened after the man, Mark Uran, drove onto the sidewalk in front of the Third Precinct, reversed into a light pole and sped off. Four squad cars pursued Uran, and Lehner was able to block his path.

Lehner then approached the car, gun drawn. Uran raised his hands up, and then another officer grabbed Uran in the car and tried to pull him out. Lehner opened the passenger side door and kicked the man in the face and torso. The driver was never convicted of a crime related to the stop.

Four of the incidents were resolved in about a year despite the union challenging the discipline. Ultimately, Lehner received a 15 hour suspension and letter of reprimand for knocking down the TV journalist and kicking two men and a woman in the face.

The incident involving pushing the protester by the throat took longer to resolve. It wasn’t until March 2017 — nearly five years later — that the union and the city agreed to suspend Lehner for 20 hours.

In 2016, then-Police Chief Janeé Harteau fired Lehner for an incident in 2014 in which Lehner pushed a woman down twice even though he said he was not threatened by her and allegedly called her a “c**t.” Lehner appealed to an arbitrator, who did not mention the five instances of excessive force from 2011-2012 when deciding to overturn the termination and reduce Lehner’s discipline to a 40-hour suspension. The incidents, however, did convince the same arbitrator in 2019 to uphold Lehner’s second termination for kicking a handcuffed teenager in the face in 2013.

“This amounts to six serious use of force violations in the period from 2012 to 2015,” Stephen Befort, the arbitrator, wrote in his decision. “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 civil liability.”

The city settled with the teenage victim, Luis Garcia, for $360,000, while the police department paid Lehner more than $290,000 in wages while on administrative leave, about three and a half years of getting paid without working.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo have declined multiple requests for interviews.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.