Officer who killed suspect now teaches police, kids to get along

Jason Lehman was a cop in Southern California when he killed a suspect throughout a drug sting in 2009. This incident, together with previous complaints about his use of power, led him to query his total perspective to policing. In 2014, he began Why’d You Cease Me?, a nonprofit aimed toward decreasing concern and violent conflicts involving police. Now 41, Lehman leads empowerment seminars with police departments and group members to construct belief and to indicate all sides how you can keep secure. Right here, he tells his story

They name me Tiny.

I’m 6-foot-4, 315 kilos and performed soccer on the College of South Florida — and that’s the nickname gang members gave me within the Southern California metropolis the place I labored as a cop for greater than 16 years.

It’s a group of 400,000 with an issue of violent crime, habit and homelessness. After I joined the police division in 2006, I served on a avenue crime unit doing gang suppression. We did quite a few high-risk search warrants and made lots of arrests.

"What we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working," said Jason “Tiny” Lehman, a retired cop who changed his view on policing and is now an advocate for reform.
“What we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working,” says Jason “Tiny” Lehman, a retired cop who modified his view on policing and is now an advocate for reform.

My job was to power open individuals’s doorways with a battering ram to serve these warrants. I noticed myself because the enforcer. When somebody checked out me sideways, it was on. 

In these days, I made selections that broke down the belief between police and the individuals I used to be sworn to guard. At instances I used profane language, slapped on cuffs too tightly and ignored easy requests associated to the wants of individuals I’d arrested. They have been types of disrespect again then that have been tolerated by a number of the officers I labored with. It was usually us towards them.

In my early years, I had various internal-affairs complaints associated to misconduct allegations. One was for extreme power, and in 2009 I received suspended. My boss instructed me, “I don’t assume you need to be a police officer. It’s essential management your inside fool.  Should you don’t, you’re not simply going to get fired. You’re going to go to jail.”

Then, in 2009, throughout an undercover operation, my companion and I chased a suspected drug seller down the road. He was a neighborhood gang member, and we’d heard from our informant that he had a gun in his waistband.

At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Lehman (right) was a high school football star who went on to play for the University of South Florida. As a cop, gang members nicknamed him "Tiny."
At 6-foot-4, 315 kilos, Lehman (proper) was a highschool soccer star who went on to play for the College of South Florida. As a cop, gang members nicknamed him “Tiny.”

He went right into a constructing, up a staircase and jumped from the second flooring to the sidewalk. He punched my companion, and I tackled him. My companion had his gun out and the suspect was reaching for my companion’s arm, and I additionally thought he had his personal gun, so I hit him with my sap. It’s a brief, flat steel baton wrapped in leather-based that was generally utilized in regulation enforcement again then.  

His physique stopped transferring and I watched him cease respiration. We known as for medics and the Hearth Division introduced him again to life. However he went right into a coma and in the end he died. 

The District Lawyer’s Workplace checked out me as a murder suspect — or so it felt to me. I used to be separated from my friends. I needed to see a psychologist. They cleared me of any wrongdoing, and I used to be allowed to return to work.

However I had one query: might I’ve achieved one thing in a different way or higher?

For about a year after he killed a suspect, Lehman said, "I would go home, sit on my couch and plot and plan how to kill myself." Going into therapy saved his life.
For a few yr after he killed a suspect, Lehman stated, “I’d go house, sit on my sofa and plot and plan how you can kill myself.” Going into remedy saved his life.
John Chapple/

The usage of power was stated to be OK — and I consider I’d nonetheless deal with it the identical manner — however I additionally knew from my previous there have been dozens of instances once I might have achieved higher. And I used to be making an attempt to get these wrongdoings out of my head.

For a few yr, on dozens of events, I’d go house, sit on my sofa and plot and plan how you can kill myself.

I discovered remedy, and having a secure place to inform my story saved my life. 

Even earlier than that incident, I had began making modifications to do issues proper. It made me understand the unhealthy I had achieved. These selections, which almost wrecked my profession and ended my life, additionally made me surprise. What would it not appear to be if police and group members might higher perceive one another’s views and belief one another extra?

“These selections, which almost wrecked my profession and ended my life, additionally made me surprise. What would it not appear to be if police and group members might higher perceive one another’s views and belief one another extra?”

Jason Lehman, reflecting on his errors as an officer and the way he vowed to assist others do higher

In April of 2011, we heard {that a} violent native avenue gang was planning to ambush us on this park — retaliation for the man whose life I had taken. My division, caring for my security, took me off the streets. And it simply so occurred that at the moment I had a good friend, a teammate from junior school who was an assistant principal, who invited me to talk to his classroom of at-risk youths.

I felt prefer it was God intervening.

I began telling them about what I do and why. Why it’s scary to be a policeman. Each facet was my concern. This child within the again stood up.

“Hey, Tiny,” he says. “Bear in mind me? You arrested me two years in the past.”

Lehman said the death of George Floyd filled him with "anger and frustration" — and that his murder serves as a reminder that the work he is doing is "more important than ever."
Lehman stated the loss of life of George Floyd stuffed him with “anger and frustration” — and that his homicide serves as a reminder that the work he’s doing is “extra essential than ever.”
Getty Photographs

He was proper. I had arrested him proper throughout from the varsity. He was 15 then and had a gun in his waistband.

“Earlier than right this moment, I had plans to harm you,” he stated. “However that is the primary day I acknowledged you. It’s the primary day I can say that I respect a cop.”

This child talked for a few minute. He took over the room.

“It was raining that day, and yeah, I used to be carrying a gun. I used to be sporting new garments my mother had simply purchased me with the final cash she had as a result of I used to be on my first date. My woman and I have been holding arms, and also you made me get on the moist concrete and crawl to you.

Lehman was "sickened" by the actions of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis cop who kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he begged for his life.
Lehman was “sickened” by the actions of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis cop who stored his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he begged for his life.
Hennepin County Jail/AFP by way of Getty Photographs

“My mother was throughout the road watching from the window. She got here down after I used to be arrested and was crying. However one other officer refused to reply her questions. Wouldn’t your mother need to know extra?

“I used to be carrying a gun as a result of my brother had simply been shot in entrance of our condo complicated. I used to be now the person of the home and needed to shield my household. If that had occurred to you, wouldn’t you be carrying a gun, Tiny?

He stated:  “Your security issues, however why don’t you begin pondering for us, too?”

I used to be blown away. I felt nearly paralyzed by what this younger man needed to say. I started to comprehend how essential it was to assume for the opposite aspect.

Lehman celebrating Law Enforcement Appreciation Day with his colleagues.
Lehman, who retired after 16 years as a cop, celebrates Legislation Enforcement Appreciation Day with a few of his former colleagues.
Instagram @jasonlehman64

I walked out of that classroom and my good friend requested me, “What’s the identify of your program?” I didn’t have one. He stated, “You may’t cease doing this. You simply gave these youngsters what they should survive their subsequent police encounter.”

I left with a higher sense of connection to women and men of coloration. I requested myself,  “Why aren’t we empowering these younger individuals to get together with authority figures?” We additionally wanted to alter the way in which that cops are skilled to speak.

I knew I had a mission.

However I didn’t have a reputation for what I needed to create. These youngsters at all times needed to know why I’d stopped them. In order that’s how I got here up with my nonprofit identify, “Why’d You Cease Me?”

Lehman has an "amazing" team at his nonprofit, Why'd You Stop Me?, he said, including Charles Myles, a pastor who helps train officers and community members.
Lehman has an “superb” group at his nonprofit, Why’d You Cease Me?, he says, together with Charles Myles, a pastor who helps practice officers and group members.
John Chapple/

We began coaching in 2012 and established our nonprofit two years later — with the mission to teach each side to scale back violent confrontations. Our group has many superb members, together with present and retired law-enforcement officers, two pastors, and an inspiring counselor who overcame drug habit after being kidnapped by a gang and sexually assaulted.  

Most of us have come via tumultuous conditions, however our tales present legitimacy to the individuals we’re educating.

Our program connects members of the group and the police. It’s about studying extra from one another. We ask younger individuals to play the position of a police officer making an arrest. We sort out points involving race. We problem individuals to see alternatives to construct belief and respect.

The crusading retired officer, who has conducted seminars with thousands of people across the country, wants to expand his reach. "Why not New York? he asked.
The crusading retired officer, who has carried out seminars with hundreds of individuals throughout the nation, desires to broaden his attain. “Why not New York? he requested.
Instagram @jasonlehman64

It’s not nearly getting via a cease safely. It’s about decreasing concern on each side. As a result of you possibly can’t have violence with out concern.

Some cops and group members don’t acknowledge how cynical they are often — and the way that may have an effect on their conduct. Legislation enforcement has a paramilitary tradition. However that shouldn’t cease officers from discovering methods to construct belief, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize their security.

There must be proactive engagement, which may contain as small a gesture as waving to a group member at a stoplight and providing a real smile. “Hey, I’m Jason. I work on this neighborhood. I’m out right here with you.”

Lehman with Sergeant Heather Williams, who helped bring his organization's work to her police department in Fountain Valley, Calif.
Lehman with Sgt. Heather Williams, who helped carry his group’s work to her police division in Fountain Valley, Calif.
Instagram @jasonlehman64

In proactive policing, there are occasions when violence is important, however cops additionally have to be aware of the worth of treating suspects with dignity.

We watch movies exhibiting examples of use of power, and our members are challenged with real-life eventualities within the classroom. How might this example have been dealt with in a different way? Are you permitting others to have a voice?

We encourage officers and group members to alter the phrases they use.  If a suspect is struggling, many cops will say,  “Cease resisting!” However what does that imply to a suspect if she or he has by no means heard that earlier than? A mom doesn’t inform her little one, “Cease resisting!”

“Humanizing the badge makes everybody safer.”

Jason Lehman on how his work with the police and communities helps cut back violence

So if they’re punching or kicking, wouldn’t or not it’s higher to say, “Cease punching me! Cease kicking me!”

Or an officer would possibly order a suspect to “comply” or “chill out.” These phrases not often do something to de-escalate a harmful scenario.

To this point, our group has skilled about 45,000 youths and grownup group members in 22 cities and 5 states. And our program, “TAG: Collectively Attaining Greatness,” has gone in all places from seventh-grade lecture rooms to jails and prisons.

We’ve additionally labored with greater than 10,000  cops. There are 70,000 within the state of California. My objective is to coach each considered one of them.

During the sessions Lehman runs, participants are challenged with real-life scenarios. "How could this situation have been handled differently?" he asks them.
Throughout the periods Lehman runs, members are challenged with real-life eventualities. “How might this example have been dealt with in a different way?” he asks them.
John Chapple/

And I don’t need to cease there. Why not New York? Why not the remainder of the nation?

In 2014, the town of Salinas, Calif., an agricultural group, largely Hispanic, had one of many highest use-of-force charges within the state. Over the following two years, we skilled hundreds of group members and cops there. And we noticed an enormous discount in violent encounters.

Two years in the past this week I used to be sickened by what occurred in Minneapolis when Derek Chauvin stored his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he begged for his life and was killed. His homicide stuffed me with anger and frustration — and serves as a reminder that the work we’re doing is extra essential than ever.

Final yr, there have been 1,055 fatal police shootings, and 625 cops died in the line of duty. And the numbers are going up. These acts of violence should cease. What we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working.

The important thing to fixing the issue is encouraging individuals to search out widespread floor. Lots of the members in our packages have talked in regards to the worth of holding themselves accountable for his or her actions.

Lehman’s conflict-resolution trainings have reached some 45,000 kids and adults across 22 cities and five states -- and more than 10,000 police officers.
Lehman’s conflict-resolution trainings have reached some 45,000 youngsters and adults throughout 22 cities and 5 states — and greater than 10,000 cops.
Instagram @jasonlehman64

Every of us must ask, “What can I do to assist?”

As a result of humanizing the badge makes everybody safer.

— As instructed to Brad Hamilton

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