County warns against teen drinking, even if parents host

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2012 - 11:26 PM

As graduation season nears, the county attorney announced stepped-up law enforcement. "Kids can't drink responsibly," he said.

Parents who furnish alcohol to graduating Washington County teenagers at home parties can expect extra scrutiny from police and prosecutors in coming weeks.

An initiative by County Attorney Pete Orput and his assistants to head off tragedies associated with underage drinking will take aim at parents who contend they're keeping drunk kids off the roads by hosting parties.

"They'll go, 'I rather that they drank at my house than down at the county park or in the woods.' Absolutely not," Orput said. "You're not being a parent then, because it is against the law. You aren't there to tend bar. Kids can't drink responsibly. Study after study has shown that."

Last week, Orput announced that his office will be working with city police departments and the Washington County Sheriff's Office "to investigate and prosecute" anyone involved with teenage drinking parties.

Attorneys from his office offered training to police "to ensure the successful prosecution" of offenses, and Orput advised residents who witness such parties to notify police immediately "and know that their concerns will be taken seriously."

Orput and his attorneys also issued a five-page directive last week to law enforcement agencies advising them on how to improve chances for successful prosecutions when responding to teenage parties. Much of the directive details the law pertaining to search warrants and under what circumstances officers can enter private homes without violating constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"It's a big Fourth Amendment issue," he said.

Several Washington County cities -- Cottage Grove, Forest Lake, Oak Park Heights, Stillwater and Woodbury -- have social host ordinances that could lead to prosecution of parents who organize or even allow teenage drinking parties.

"There are all sorts of consequences that flow from these things that affect people's lives," said Steve Povolny, Orput's chief assistant attorney and a former Forest Lake police officer. "It's a bigger deal than most people may know about."

Parents who think they can control teenage behavior at a home graduation party had better think again, Povolny said, if the alcohol they serve to kids leads to traffic deaths, rapes, drug use and other felonies.

"I think it's the same story year after year," said Lee Vague, Woodbury's public safety director.

"It's frustrating that we continue to see it year after year and people don't seem to recognize that it's a really bad idea."

Past teenage drinking parties have led to alcohol poisonings, assaults, thefts of jewelry, even cars driven into the walls of garages, Vague said. Prom nights in Woodbury passed without any significant trouble, in part because of a "positive trend" of many teenagers taking part in alcohol-free group activities under strong parental supervision, he said.

"There are a lot of parents that are tuned in, they're involved and they're doing all the right things," he said. "I hope that attitude carries through to the graduation parties."

Orput said parents planning to host drinking parties should remember that they could be subject to criminal charges or expensive lawsuits if teenagers they serve get hurt or die as a result. It's a mistake for parents to justify serving alcohol to kids because they think they can control behavior or prevent tragedies, he said.

"Bad stuff comes of it," he said. "Where is that line? Is it OK for kids to have promiscuous sex in the back yard and big toga parties and sit there smoking weed? Come on, are you going to be the parent instead of their buddy or enabler?"

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037

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