MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has launched a criminal investigation into whether a Hutchinson Police officer gave drugs to an Occupy protestor as part of a police training program. Top officials say a state trooper was put on leave Wednesday as a result.
WCCO-TV first reported on the State Patrol’s Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) program last May. Cameras captured officers as they studied people high on drugs. Back then, officers said the program helps them learn how to spot impairment and troublesome drivers.
Dan Feidt, an independent journalist with the Occupy Movement, said he spotted trouble two weeks ago at Minneapolis’ Peavey Plaza, where he noticed protestors talking to police about the DRE training program.
“A lot of people were very forthright about the fact that they had been put through as training subjects; they had been given marijuana and pipes,” said Feidt, who picked up a camera and began recording, along with other independent media outlets like Rogue Media, Communities United Against Police Brutality, and Twin Cities IndyMedia.
Hutchinson police appear in Feidt’s video. An officer in that department came forward to authorities saying he witnessed a fellow officer giving out marijuana. But safety officials aren’t saying if the accused officer is the man in Feidt’s video. Hutchinson Police Chief Daniel Hatten said the officer will be on the job until the review is completed.
Back in May, program leaders said they offered drug users a few incentives.
“We’ll run them through the drive-thru…and give them something to eat,” said Sgt. Dan Marose, who supervised the program last year. He said sometimes officers bought cigarettes for drug users too.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) has now suspended DRE while it investigates criminal activity. Spokesperson Bruce Gordon vowed his staff will uncover the truth.
He said DPS will “take a hard look at this program, the policies and procedures that are in place, [to] make sure we don’t condone any illegal activity. We want to make sure this program is administered legally, ethically and a way that is accepted by the community.” Gordon who told reporters the video heightened awareness of the situation and may have prompted a law enforcement officer to come forward. Gordon also said DPS believes this is an isolated incident, but it will investigate more claims that other officers gave out drugs as well.
Lt. Col. Matt Langer, Assistant Chief of the Minnesota State Patrol said Trooper Nick Otterson was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday, pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations about his conduct during training.
The state patrol did not elaborate on the allegations against Trooper Nick Otterson because of the ongoing investigation.
A separate internal investigation also is under way to determine whether any policies were violated, according to DPS commissioner Mona Dohman.
“Training law enforcement officers to detect drug impairment helps to keep our roads safe, but we need to ensure that all participants follow guidelines and operate within the law,” Dohman said. She added the training program is suspended pending the investigations and “until we revisit and review the curriculum for the program.”
The DRE program started in Minnesota in 1991, and 197 officers from 92 agencies are currently certified as “drug recognition evaluators,” DPS said.
The drug recognition training includes nine days of classroom work where officers learn about drug categories and physiology. After the classroom training, the officers perform 12 evaluations on people who are impaired by drugs. These volunteer subjects are monitored and typically recruited from the community, according to a news release from DPS.
Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia and Canada participate in the drug evaluation and classification program. It started in Los Angeles in the 1970s when police realized that people arrested for drunken driving weren’t always under the influence of alcohol. Authorities then came up with procedures to recognize when people were impaired by other substances.
Occupy Minnesota member Osha Karow said he was happy to hear that an officer came forward and reported the incident instead of trying to cover it up, but upset that authorities initially denied activists’ claims, despite what he called “indisputable evidence” collected on video.
“We’re very excited that an officer decided to tell the truth and do the right thing,” Karow said. “Citizens have the power to make a change by investigating something and making it public.”
He said members of the Occupy movement are calling for an independent investigation. Feidt says what he captured is not only illegal, it’s inhumane.
“It’s very unethical for police to encourage people to take drugs with any kind of reward, whether that’s cash, food, cigarettes, or whatever — that’s still the equivalent of giving them drugs anyway,” Feidt said. “It trains officers to treat people like objects, I think it’s unacceptable, I think it’s inhumane, clearly when people were put through this program as training subjects, they weren’t given information about treatment even though they might want that.”
Minnesota Department of Public Safety says 26 officers participated in the DRE training last week and that they were from the following agencies: the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, the Chaska Police Department, the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office, the Coon Rapids Police Department, the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office, the Farmington Police Department, the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office, the Hutchinson Police Department, the Kanabec County Sheriff’s Office, the Lakes Area Police Department, the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office, the Maple Grove Police Department, the Minnesota State Patrol, the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office, the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and the Worthington Police Department.
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