Attorney Eric Hageman represented Luis Garcia in an excessive-force lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and former Minneapolis police officer Blayne Lehner. Mr. Garcia, who was a passenger in a vehicle stopped by the police, was handcuffed and detained without cause and placed in the rear of Officer Lehner’s squad car. At the time, Mr. Garcia was 18 years old, with no criminal record. He weighed 120 pounds. While Garcia was handcuffed behind his back in the rear of the squad, Lehner kicked him in the face with enough force that Garcia was knocked unconscious. Lehner’s kick also broke Mr. Garcia’s jaw and nose and knocked out his two front teeth. Although the City took no action in response to Lehner’s actions, after we filed suit in an effort to hold the City and the police accountable, the City decided to avoid defending and indemnifying Lehner. Yet in June of 2016, the City Council agreed to pay $360,000 for its own liability in the case. Mr. Garcia is separately resolving the claims against Lehner individually.
During the course of the lawsuit, Eric and his legal team uncovered evidence that despite multiple sustained findings that Lehner had used unreasonable force (primarily by kicking suspects), he received virtually no discipline from the City. Making matters worse, despite the numerous red flags Lehner’s conduct should have raised, the City instead praised Lehner at nearly every turn.
The assault Officer Lehner committed on Luis Garcia was a predictable consequence of a police department that repeatedly rewarded Lehner for his “aggressive” approach to policing and merely slapped him on the wrist (if it did anything at all) for multiple proven instances in which he used the very force he used against Mr. Garcia (i.e., kicking suspects in the head or face). In fact, perhaps the clearest evidence of MPD’s tolerance of Lehner’s tactics was in how it responded to Lehner’s assault on Garcia, the facts of which were known to the MPD immediately after the incident occurred. Despite that knowledge, Lehner’s supervisor and Internal Affairs both effectively rubber-stamped his kicking of a handcuffed suspect in the face.
In the case, Eric and his team established that the City’s failure to enforce any meaningful consequences with regard to the numerous previous instances Lehner used unreasonable force led him to believe he could violate the Fourth Amendment with impunity, which directly caused the indefensible assault on a handcuffed 120-pound man.
The only claim asserted against the City in the lawsuit was that “the City of Minneapolis maintained a custom and practice of deliberate indifference to the use of excessive force by its officers.” Given that the City had no legal obligation to pay any money for the actions of Officer Lehner, its decision to pay $360,000 to settle speaks volumes about its own actions.