Lehner family sues over police diver’s drowning

The family of Officer Craig Lehner filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday against City Hall and the Buffalo Police Department. Lehner drowned during a dive training exercise in the Niagara River last October with the department’s Underwater Recovery Team.

The lawsuit contends the city and police department “violated and departed from” the rules and regulations guiding dive training. Several of the allegations in the filing are similar to the findings in an Investigative Post story published earlier this year, which exposed shortcomings in the dive team’s training, equipment, and safety procedures.

The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court, contends:

  • Lehner was not provided with a crucial piece of safety equipment – a quick-release snap shackle – that might have helped him disconnect from his tether that was likely caught on debris.
  • The leader of the dive team, Detective Leo McGrath, was not certified to teach public safety diving
  • Lehner and his teammates were not “aware of the dangers of diving in fast-moving water,” or low-visibility and debris-filled water, like that of the Niagara River. On the day Lehner drowned, the current was moving between 8 and 12 knots, or up to nearly 14 miles per hour. Training for swift-water diving should only be conducted in water moving between 1 to 4 knots, experts say.
  • The team failed to “properly train” Lehner for public safety diving in the dangerous conditions of the Niagara River. According to police records previously obtained by Investigative Post, Lehner participated in just five training exercises – all in relatively calm waters – prior to his fatal dive.

City and police officials will be served with the suit on Tuesday, an attorney for the family said.