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Tevlin: What could go wrong if cops give out pot?

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN
  • Star Tribune
  • February 5, 2013 - 9:12 PM

On the face of it, it's a mind-boggling scenario.

In order to learn how to recognize people who are on drugs, law enforcement officers drive around town offering free marijuana to Occupy protesters, homeless people and people with mental health issues.

In return for the dope, and maybe a meal, the officers get to observe the "volunteers" as they get increasingly higher. Bloodshot eyes. Droopy lids. Uncoordinated movements. Maybe they run them through a few tests, then drop them back on the streets of Minneapolis to fend for themselves.

What possibly could go wrong?

"When I tell people about it, they just can't believe it," said Alan Milstein. "It sounds ridiculous."

On Monday afternoon, lawyers Milstein and Nathan Hansen held a news conference to discuss a civil rights lawsuit against several law enforcement agencies and individual officers for providing drugs to at least six young people who had gathered at Peavey Plaza for protests.

The suit is based largely on a 500-page investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in which other officers thought that some in the program "skirted the line" and that "morals are gone."

Several of the officers allegedly involved refused to be interviewed for the investigation, so there was not enough evidence to prosecute them. The lawyers, however, think there is enough evidence for a million-dollar outcome.

The bizarre suit alleges that the officers, many from suburban areas, gave the participants heavy doses of marijuana as part of a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program.

Hansen and Milstein say officers in the DRE program were told to target Occupy protesters and vulnerable adults who were homeless or mentally ill.

The program portends to find people who are already high, but the suit contends that many of the young people were given drugs to smoke in police cars and parking lots. Officers put them though some exercises, sometimes at a law enforcement facility, and then simply dropped them off in downtown Minneapolis "in a high and incoherent state."

One officer interviewed said, "I don't know what the big deal is. I just gave them marijuana. It's not like I hurt anybody," according to the suit.

Milstein is an expert in human medical testing, and begs to differ.

"The state was essentially using these people as an ends to a mean," said Milstein. Not only did officers not know the medical condition of the "volunteers," the testing was not scientific, deputies didn't provide subjects with implied consent forms or follow any of the ethical protections of human subject research.

Unlike medical experiments with lofty goals of curing disease through human testing that sometimes goes wrong, however, these experiments were conducted for unscientific skill-building for officers.

Look for Milstein, a historian of human testing who has won multimillion-dollar suits for his clients, to invoke the Nuremberg Code and Tuskegee syphilis experiment in castigating the DRE program as "an affront to human dignity."

"What's interesting to me is that you have at the University of Minnesota, one of the premier bioethical departments in the country, and they never thought to give them a call?" said Milstein. If authorities really wanted to see someone high, "they could have gone to a concert," he added.

I told Hansen that when I was in my 20s, getting stoned in front of cops was not exactly on my bucket list. Why didn't they just walk away?

"Some of them were scared," said Hansen. "Others were offered food or more drugs and some were vulnerable."

One plaintiff, Michael Bounds, suffers from epilepsy and schizophrenia, Hansen said. "Who knows how he might react to other drugs? It could have been a big problem."

Public officials giving dope to kids camped on a plaza in downtown Minneapolis, so the officers can be certified as drug experts?

What possibly could go wrong?

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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