BUFFALO, NY — Buffalo Police are looking into what happened in the death of Officer Craig Lehner.
Lehner, a K-9 officer and member of the Underwater Recovery Team, went missing last Friday in the Niagara River during a training exercise.
His body was recovered five days later.
The BPD Homicide Unit is the lead investigating agency on the death of Officer Craig Lehner. They were at the scene Tuesday, when his body was recovered. Wednesday, detectives were at ECMC for the autopsy.
Although the homicide unit is the lead agency on this, Lt. Jeff Rinaldo made it clear at this afternoon's press briefing, this is not a criminal investigation.
"I don't want people thinking that because homicide is involved there's any thought of foul play. Homicide investigates all deaths that occur in the city," Rinaldo said.
2 On Your Side asked Lt. Rinaldo if it would be a conflict of interest to have one of their own units investigating the death of Officer Lehner, but he said it's not because they consider the case an "industrial death". BPD Homicide is working with PESH, Public Employees Safety and Health, an agency that looks into any on the job deaths of public employees.
Lt. Rinaldo told reporters it may take months before details are released because they have to put together information from the Erie County Coroner’s Office, the homicide unit's findings, and details collected from the Underwater Response Dive Team members.
"But it's going to be a slow process because it's going to be a large learning curve for the homicide unit," explains Rinaldo, "to get over in terms of how things are done, how dives are conducted, what was recovered, what that means down the road in an investigation.
"When you're talking about the Niagara River, 12 mile-per-hour currents, debris fields...there's just so many variables that go into that equation. We may never know exactly what happened down there."
Lt. Rinaldo has said they plan to have a debriefing and review with the dive team members sometime after Lehner's funeral which is expected to happen next week. The Buffalo Police designated a liaison to work with Officer Lehner's family to discuss funeral plans.
"Right now, because of the length of this thing," explains Rinaldo, "that entire team has been placed on side duty, meaning that they have been given some time off by the commissioner to just recoup, rest, spend some time with their family."
The second half of the press briefing Wednesday was about Officer Lehner's K-9 partner, Shield. Four members of the K-9 officer team were there with him.
Buffalo police say Shield will go back to the team that originally trained him, and they will determine what his skill set is to hopefully pair him with a new handler.
"All the good qualities of Craig Lehner are the good qualities we see in this dog," said K9 Unit Commander, Sal Losi. "Loyalty, professionalism, dedication, we even see a quirky sense of humor when we play with him. You know he definitely embodies the spirit of Craig Lehner."
The K9 team recognizes that Shield may be feeling the stress of being separated from Officer Lehner, so they're keeping him active.
Each member of the team has their own K9 partner, so they're sharing the responsibility of caring for him. But they say no one is complaining about pulling double duty.
Shield himself is off duty now because he needs to be re-certified with a new handler before he can be used in investigations.
If for whatever reason he can't be paired with a new officer, he will be put up for adoption.
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