Suit: Minn. drug training program violated rights

  • Article by: AMY FORLITI
  • Associated Press
  • February 2, 2013 - 11:07 AM

MINNEAPOLIS - Six people who say they were given drugs as part of a now-suspended program that taught police how to recognize signs of drug use have sued the state of Minnesota and several law enforcement agencies, alleging the program was an "unethical clinical trial" that treated participants like "guinea pigs."

The lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Minnesota alleges the Drug Recognition Evaluators program violated plaintiffs' rights and targeted protesters and vulnerable people.

The program trains officers how to detect and remove impaired drivers from the road. An investigation was launched last spring after some Occupy Minneapolis activists accused police of offering them marijuana and incentives to participate. The protesters posted a video online to back up their claims.

The investigation found there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges. The program remains suspended pending a review by the Department of Public Safety.

DPS spokesman Bruce Gordon said he could not discuss specifics of pending litigation, but added: "We are committed to restoring public confidence in this important program."

The lawsuit alleges the program was "essentially an unethical clinical trial whereby armed police officers provided vulnerable members of the public with substantial quantities of marijuana ... encouraged them to get high, observed them, and then abandoned them while they were still high."

It says authorities were instructed to target Occupy Minneapolis protesters who were exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, as well as those already addicted to illegal drugs. The lawsuit says participants weren't given a consent form and were not asked to supply their medical history.

The program "treated the human subjects as guinea pigs, if not worse," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit seeks to keep the state and the State Patrol from running the program in the future, as well as damages in excess of $1 million.

The Drug Recognition Evaluators program started in Minnesota in 1991 and is managed by the State Patrol. After classroom training to learn about drug categories and physiology, officers must perform 15 evaluations on people who are impaired by drugs. These volunteer subjects are monitored and typically recruited from the community, DPS said.

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