Government attorneys argued in federal court Monday that Occupy Minnesota protesters voluntarily participated in a law enforcement training program when they allegedly got high at the behest of police last year.
The activists are suing a number of police officers and departments across the state, claiming they were subjects of an experiment that violated their constitutional due process and free speech rights. They say police gave them marijuana in April 2012 as part of a state Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) program that trains officers how to spot symptoms of intoxication.
“They used these kids as things,” Alan Milstein, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told a federal judge Monday. “They used them as guinea pigs … and that’s wrong.”
Attorneys for the law enforcement agencies said the protesters willingly took part in the evaluation and were aware of what it entailed. They have not conceded that any officers gave protesters drugs.
Monday’s hearing on a motion to dismiss the civil case comes 10 months after the Hennepin County attorney’s office opted not to charge any officers with criminal wrongdoing, citing a lack of evidence. The DRE program resumed this June, after a yearlong hiatus, with an important tweak: Officers will now go to California to study intoxicated people.
The DRE program is practiced by law enforcement agencies across the country. Normally, however, officers seek out and examine people who are already impaired.
But the suit alleges, for example, that they gave one activist, Forest Olivier, large quantities of marijuana in the back of a squad car and took him to a testing facility to be evaluated.
Jason Hiveley, an attorney representing several government defendants, said those who took part “knew exactly what they were getting into.” Rather than an “experiment,” he said this was merely an “evaluation of individuals who are using marijuana.”
Milstein, who is based in New Jersey and counts clinical trial litigation among his specialties, countered that the activists were not acting on their own volition, instead calling it coercion.
Much of the discussion during Monday’s hearing centered around the alleged First Amendment infringement. The activists claim they were targeted for evaluation because they were protesting, but they must prove it had a chilling effect on other Occupy Minnesota participants.
“These individuals not only had a right to stay, but they went right back to what they were doing,” Hiveley said.
The judge in the case, Franklin L. Noel, will weigh the arguments and make a ruling on the motion to dismiss.