Brandon Leohner, a 27-year-old resident of 20 Bunker Lane in Palm Coast, was arrested Tuesday on charges of kidnapping after taking the toddler he has in common with his girlfriend and driving off against his girlfriend’s wish. He drove recklessly through Palm Coast, with the child unsecured on his lap, and was arrested after a violent encounter with deputies and a police dog at McDonald’s on State Road 100.
The couple had argued, but the confrontation did not turn physical except to the extent that Leohner was handling the child. The couple had just ordered pizza, and when a neighbor walked in, Leohner became paranoid, according to his girlfriend’s account to law enforcement, and accused her of setting him up. It’s not clear why from the Sheriff’s Office’s heavily redacted incident report.
But the report’s narative clearly suggests Leohner may have paranoid episodes. Before he drove off, he walked around his Nissan, opened all the doors, walked around it as if he were suspicious of something, looked over his shoulder, and finally sat at the Nissan’s wheel with the baby. The baby started to scream.
“Give me my baby! Give me my baby!,” his girlfriend yelled. Leohner shut the car door and drove off, or sped off, leaving his girlfriend in hysterics over her baby’s fate.
A Flagler County sheriff’s deputy quickly spotted the vehicle speeding down Belle Terre Parkway at around 80 miles per hour, running red lights, causing numerous vehicles to swerve to avoid a collision–all with the baby in Leohner’s lap. The incident report states neither father nor child wore seat belts: any sudden stop could have severely injured the child.
Stuck in slow traffic, Leohner then made a U-turn through the median at Easthampton Boulevard, across from the Publix shopping center at the south end of Belle Terre Parkway, again causing several other vehicles to swerve to avoid collisions. Leohner sped north, then again made a U-turn at the emergency turn-off for Fire Station 25, his driving reflecting the same paranoia he’d displayed in his home’s driveway in the B-Section.
A sheriff’s deputy in an unmarked vehicle observed the turns. The deputy had not turned on emergency lights until seeing the Nissan travel at 65 miles per hour back south near Easthampton. That deputy pursued Leohner as he sped down to State Road 100, where he evaded stop sticks, then drove into the Target shopping center and the McDonald’s parking lot.
Leohner “immediately exited the vehicle while holding [the baby] in his arms,” the incident report states, as if “utilizing him as a shield,” according to the deputy’s account. Body cam video footage recorded the encounter.
Two deputies approached Leohner from opposite directions as he held the baby, one with his Taser drawn, the other with a police dog, Keanu, on a short leash. “Show me your fucking hands, dude. Put the baby down! Put the kid down! Put the kid down!,” the deputy pointing the Taser yelled before firing the Taser moments later even as Leohner had the baby in his arms. Leohner fell forward onto the pavement.
Leohner was aware enough to brace his fall with his hand, which likely prevented serious injury to the baby, who started screaming and was almost immediately picked up by one of the deputies, who tried to comfort him. “Dada, dada,” the baby is heard saying on the video. The deputy who fired the Taser explained in the incident report that he did so as a result of Leohner fleeing recklessly and showing no regard for other human life as he did so, and for not putting down the child after being told six times to do so. (One Taser prong landed on his abdomen, the other on a leg.)
Leohner’s girlfriend had told law enforcement that he had a gun in the vehicle, kept in the center console. Leohner threw out the gun into a swale on State Road 100 by Target as he drove. At McDonald’s, he was holding the baby with his arms and gesturing as he weaved against a wall of the restaurant, cornered.
Keanu immediately attacked him after the baby was removed and is seen biting his leg in a video frame, as the baby cries, points to his father and calls out repeatedly, “dada, dada.”
Leohner, barefoot and showing signs of bites and Taser prongs to his legs, is heard yelling out “why” a few times as he is told to stop resisting and several deputies are securing him or warning him that he will get Tased again if he does not comply. According to the deputy’s account, Leohner “continued to resist and attempt to evade arrest by crawling under a citizen’s vehicle,” then “crawled out from under the truck near the rear passenger seat and stood to his feet and continued to resist by pushing deputies away in the McDonald’s parking lot.”
Some of the deputy’s descriptions is visible in the video footage, as is Leohner, with his arms up, appearing to elude deputies. One of the deputies chasing him was the handler of Keanu, who was still nipping at Leohner. Leohner wouldn’t be the first person terrified by an attacking German Shepherd: the dog continued to attack him until he fell with one of the deputies grounding him, and deputies swarmed on him.
The body cam footage shows him on his stomach, with five deputies on him and yelling for him to put his hands behind his back. His legs and feet were feet bare as he seemed to struggle, though immobilized by the deputies. Just then the dog handler allowed the dog to attack his leg again and bite down violently enough to draw blood as another deputy briefly held both his ankles. The dog bit down fully for 16 seconds as Leohner screamed in agony, before his handler stopped him.
Leohner’s girlfriend did not want kidnapping or other charges pressed, which may make parts of the case more difficult to prosecute. He was charged with kidnapping, child neglect without great bodily harm, fleeing and eluding police, all felonies, as well as reckless driving and resisting an officer with violence.
A sheriff’s office-issued release stated he was also charged with “using a child as a shield,” but there is no such offense under Florida law. Holding a child “for ransom or reward or as a shield or hostage” is a definition of the kidnapping charge when a child under 13 is involved. It is a first-degree felony.
Leohner had not yet been booked at the county jail by Wednesday evening, having been admitted at AdventHealth Palm Coast because of the injuries he sustained during his encounter with deputies. At the hospital, he told deputies where he threw his gun, a Glock, which deputies retrieved.