Law enforcement officials put a state trooper on paid leave, launched a criminal probe into a Hutchinson officer and halted a police training program Wednesday after allegations that officers gave civilians marijuana to smoke in front of them.
The response comes a week after Occupy Minneapolis activists released a documentary video alleging that officers routinely offered people drugs as part of a program that trains officers to recognize drug use. State officials initially said they found no evidence of misconduct.
But after an officer came forward with similar allegations, the state Department of Public Safety announced the suspension of the Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) program and a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension probe of the unnamed Hutchinson officer.
Following an inquiry by the Star Tribune, the agency announced an internal affairs investigation into allegations against State Trooper Nick Otterson.
Officers from across the state participate annually in DRE training -- commonly practiced nationwide -- which involves examining the behavior and characteristics of people who are already drug impaired. That training is supposed to help officers recognize the distinct symptoms of drug impairment.
Twenty-six officers from 18 agencies participated in last week's training in Minneapolis and Richfield. Law officers paid visits to Peavey Plaza, site of the recent Occupy protests, to find subjects for their training exercise.
At least three of those subjects have come forward publicly to say the training exercise went well beyond the law. Jay Roland, who was at Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis on Wednesday, said law enforcement agents gave him the drugs -- twice.
He said a law enforcement agent "handed me a bag of pot," noting that one of the people present was State Patrol Trooper Nick Otterson. The officers told him to smoke as many bowls of marijuana as he wanted to.
"It was very good," Roland said. He said the officers took him to a road somewhere along the Mississippi River. They got out of the car while he stayed in it, smoking the drug.
"I was kind of worried because cars were pulling by and I was worried about a cop [seeing me]. Then I realized I was in the back of a cop car," Roland said, laughing. He was then taken to a warehouse in Richfield where other officers could observe him do a number of balance and coordination tests.
The second time he volunteered to go, the authorities gave him drugs but didn't take him to testing because they thought he was working with people who were filming the pickups and dropoffs, Roland said.
The Star Tribune relayed Roland's claims to a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, who said earlier that day there was "no evidence" troopers supplied drugs. Just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, Lt. Col. Matt Langer announced that Otterson had been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal affairs investigation "about his conduct during the DRE training."
'A full bag of weed'
The shocking allegations emerged last week with the announcement at a Minneapolis City Council meeting of a 35-minute video, produced by a group of Occupy and police watchdog activists.
Among other encounters, the video shows a Hutchinson officer speaking to someone in a Chisago County cruiser containing Occupy activist Forest Olivier, though it remains unclear whether it is the same officer under investigation.
The video doesn't show any drug use or officers offering drugs.
But Olivier testified about his experience during the City Council meeting, noting he has participated three times. "They gave me a full bag of weed," Olivier said. "And they gave me a pipe to smoke it out of."
Another man who appeared in the video, Michael Bounds, said in an interview Wednesday he was offered marijuana in exchange for "becoming an informant for Hennepin County."
"They weren't really precise on it. But they said they would contact me when the time is right," he said.
Two sheriff's deputies took him to the 6th Street parking garage, he said. Bounds said he was let out of the car, told to sit on a curb and one of the deputies then packed Bounds' pipe for him. "I smoked two or three bowls until I was quite high," he said.
The deputies handed him a bag of marijuana after he agreed to become an informant. He said he later reneged on the deal but kept the drugs. "There's one thing that I won't do and that's betray my friends," he said.
After the video was released, the State Patrol said last week that it found "no evidence ... that would substantiate any of the allegations."
But a day later, an officer told them that he witnessed the Hutchinson officer give someone marijuana.
Midday Wednesday, the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the patrol, announced that it had launched a limited criminal investigation into allegations against the unnamed Hutchinson officer. That officer remains on the force, according to Hutchinson police.
"Right now, we're examining this particular incident," said Department of Public Safety spokesman Bruce Gordon. "We have no evidence that it's anything more than this one incident. If we receive additional information we'll expand the scope of the investigation."
The department also said it had launched an internal affairs investigation into the policies and procedures of the DRE certification program.
The allegations that subjects participated multiple times -- and sometimes received food in return -- also raises questions about whether police are tacitly endorsing drug use.
"I think that will be under review," Gordon said. "I think the program and how it ... recruits volunteers will be under review and be scrutinized by everybody from the commissioner on down."
Minneapolis Police Chief Timothy Dolan said the city's police force had no part in the training. Elsewhere in City Hall, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak expressed outrage in a statement Wednesday.
"I never could have imagined that something like this would happen in Minneapolis, or that it would happen without consulting the mayor and police chief," Rybak said. "It's just plain wrong."
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732