Minn. police drop controversial drug programby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has launched a criminal investigation into a controversial training program intended to help law enforcement spot people under the influence of drugs.
Authorities placed a state trooper on administrative leave and indefinitely suspended the program after one of the officers reporting seeing a Hutchinson police officer give marijuana to a potential test subject.
Today's announcement appears to give some credence to an explosive video released last week by activists affiliated with the Occupy Minnesota movement.
The drug training program is designed to have officers from around the state recruit test subjects whom the officers believe are already impaired. The 26 officers in this year's class then take the volunteers to a facility in Richfield to evaluate them for possible drug use.
But in a video released last week, young people at Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis told a different story. Activist Forest Olivier is seen giving the thumbs up after he climbs into a squad car with a uniformed Hutchinson police officer. Later in the video, Olivier says police gave him pot to get high.
"Then they gave me a bowl, too, and we smoked that up, forever, like, a whole hour!" he said. "They gave us a whole bag of weed, and we smoked it all up."
Public safety officials wouldn't say whether the Hutchinson police officer seen in the video is the same person officials are investigating.
Department of Public Safety officials say the program will be suspended until the criminal investigation is completed, which could lead to possible charges. The department's internal affairs division is also investigating if any agency policies or procedures were violated. Spokesman Bruce Gordon said the department will take a hard look at the program, which has been in place since 1991.
"We're going to get to the truth," Gordon said. "Right, wrong, or indifferent, we're going to know what happened, and we're going to make sure going forward, the program is administered legally, ethically, and in a way that the community is comfortable with."
After reviewing the video last week, officials at the Minnesota State Patrol, which runs the training, initially said the claims lacked any substantial evidence, and that there was no need for further investigation.
But the next day, an officer in the program from another law enforcement agency reported witnessing a Hutchinson officer giving away pot. Officials say the video might have prompted the officer to come forward.
At this point, the investigation is limited to that single allegation, despite the video's suggestions that the problem is more widespread.
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said she is pleased by the latest news. But Gross, who helped capture some of the footage, said the state's response has been generally underwhelming and too narrow in scope.
"I think this is more damage control than a legitimate investigation," she said.
Gross notes that Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon has spoken out publicly about similar allegations. Gordon recalled a phone call from a concerned parent who said that her son, who has mental health problems, was recruited for the program.
Forest Olivier, the activist seen in the video, also testified before a City Council committee.
Gross said she is concerned that some of the test subjects were minors or vulnerable adults.
"Police should not be breaking the law. It's against the law to be giving someone else a drug," Gross said. "Then they're becoming drug distributors. They're breaking the laws they're supposed to uphold."
The Hutchinson officer under investigation is still working for the department, Police Chief Daniel Hatten said. He declined to comment on the allegations until the investigation is complete.
The Minnesota State Patrol has placed Trooper Nick Otterson on paid administrative leave today. In a statement from state patrol assistant chief Lt. Col. Matt Langer, allegations regarding Otterson's "conduct during DRE training" are under investigation.
- All Things Considered, 05/09/2012, 5:50 p.m.