Attorney Eric Hageman recently appeared in multiple news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and KSTP News, commenting on the need to reform the arbitration system that allows police officers who were fired for misconduct to remain on the force in Minnesota and 32 other states. Eric leads our police misconduct legal team at Pritzker Hageman law firm. Through our work representing people injured by police violence, we have seen firsthand the size of the problem caused by unconstitutional police conduct in the U.S.
“The reality is because they’re allowed to use force, [police] get a lot of leeway in these cases. If you don’t always have credible witnesses to come forward and you don’t have police officers willing to testify against their fellow officers, it can be really difficult to win these cases.”Attorney Eric Hageman in the Wall Street Journal
Police Excessive Force Lawsuit – Officer Remains Fired After Arbitration Ruling
In 2016, our legal team represented 18-year-old Luis Garcia, who was an innocent passenger in a vehicle pulled over by the police when now former officer Blayne Lehner kicked him in the face with enough force to break his jaw and nose, knock out his front teeth, and leave him unconscious. At the time of the incident, which happened in 2013, Garcia’s hands were cuffed behind his back.
Lehner, who had racked up 36 complaints of misconduct in his 15 years on the police force, was fired in 2014 for shoving a woman to the ground and calling her a derogatory name during a domestic disturbance call. This incident put the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) internal affairs investigation of the Garcia case temporarily on hold. When Lehner won his job back in arbitration in 2016, the MPD resumed an internal affairs investigation into the Garcia case and found that Lehner’s use of force was not justified. Lehner was fired for a second time in February 2019, after being on paid leave for nearly four years. An arbitration ruling decided in November 2019, that was made public for the first time on Thursday, determined that Lehner will remain fired.
Why did it take so long for the public to learn about the arbitration ruling?
According to the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services, about 50% of law enforcement officers who fight their termination to an arbitrator win their job back. When an arbitrator fails to send a copy of the decision to the state, rulings are not made public, leaving the public in the dark about the final outcomes of officers who are accused of misconduct.
“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,” attorney Eric Hageman told KSTP News.