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Michael Bounds in 2012

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Suit says cops gave pot to protesters and the homeless

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET
  • Star Tribune
  • February 2, 2013 - 10:06 PM

A half-dozen Minnesotans have sued the state and numerous law enforcement agencies, claiming that they were used as "guinea pigs" when officers supplied them with drugs as part of a controversial police training program.

In the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, the plaintiffs call the now-suspended Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) program, which is supposed to train police on how to spot drug use, "an unethical clinical trial" in which officers gave people large amounts of marijuana and observed them before abandoning them on the streets while they were still high.

The plaintiffs say police targeted members of the Occupy Minneapolis movement and the homeless population, as well as individuals already addicted to drugs.

"The government should be punished for this. So far nobody has been punished. ... They need to compensate these people that they treated like garbage," attorney Nathan Hansen, who is representing the plaintiffs, said Saturday.

The plaintiffs demand more than $1 million in damages and for the state to stop running the program.

While declining to discuss the specifics of the pending litigation, Bruce Gordon, director of communications for the state Department of Public Safety, said the program remained suspended as the department completes a review of it.

"We are committed to restoring public confidence in this important program," Gordon said Saturday.

The DRE program was originally suspended last May after some Occupy activists alleged in a 35-minute YouTube video that officers were giving them drugs. In the video, police from different jurisdictions can be seen persuading young people at Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis to get into their squad cars. Officers aren't shown distributing drugs.

The state initially didn't find evidence of misconduct but suspended the program when another officer came forward and said he had seen a Hutchinson officer give someone marijuana. The department launched a criminal inquiry into the conduct of the officer.

In addition, a state trooper who an Occupy protester said was present when marijuana was handed out was put on paid leave in May pending an internal affairs investigation. The trooper has since been back on the job working on "administrative assignment."

In September, following an investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said prosecutors chose not to charge the officers because of conflicting witness accounts, and no drugs were saved as evidence.

According to records obtained by the Star Tribune, six law enforcement officers refused to be interviewed as part of the state investigation, including the Hutchinson officer accused of dispensing marijuana.

Hansen said the whole premise of how the DRE program uses drug-impaired subjects was invalid. "It's not accurate. It's not scientific. It's not," he said.

In the lawsuit, the parties allege that authorities provided cash or other payment, including drugs to take home, to people in exchange for participation. Officers "sometimes intimated to the 'volunteers' that they would be arrested if they did not participate," the suit says. No consent forms were given, and nobody was asked to give a medical history, plaintiffs alleged.

Plaintiff and Occupy movement member Michael Bounds said he was asked by two officers last April if he was high, according to the lawsuit. He told them that he wasn't, and one of the officers replied, "That's all right; we'll get you high."

Bounds, who suffers from epilepsy and schizophrenia, said he was provided a large amount of marijuana, but officers didn't evaluate him afterward. He was allegedly just released in downtown Minneapolis while he was still high. He also was given a quarter of a baggie filled with marijuana to take home in exchange for information on the Occupy Minneapolis movement.

The DRE program was created to train officers to detect and remove drug-impaired drivers from the road. FOrty-eight states participate in the program. Minnesota's DRE has been managed by the State Patrol since its inception in 1991.

To become certified as a drug recognition evaluator, officers must undergo nine days of classroom training and must perform 15 evaluations on drug-impaired subjects monitored and verified by DRE instructors, according to the Department of Public Safety. "Volunteer subjects who appear to be impaired are typically recruited from the community."

There are about 200 DRE officers in Minnesota.

Hansen will hold a news conference to discuss the lawsuit Monday.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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