“Leave Your Morals at the Door,” and Become a Certified Drug Recognition Evaluator with Minnesota Law Enforcement

“Leave Your Morals at the Door,” and Become a Certified Drug Recognition Evaluator with Minnesota Law Enforcement

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Oral arguments were heard this morning at Minneapolis Federal Court over the controversial Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) program which would determine whether or not this issue moves to a jury trial. The stated purpose of the DRE program is to train law enforcement officers how to identify and interact with members of the public who are under the influence of any number of illicit substances.

Shocking admissions from officers involved in the Department of Public Safety approved program include that crack cocaine was smoked in a Minneapolis Police building, officers handed illicit drugs in an attempt to coerce test subjects with at least one of the participants most likely being mentally challenged.

Officers from numerous law enforcement agencies from around the state participated in this training exercise in which trainees would either find already inebriated subjects and in some instances, provide them with illegal substances to ingest. The officers in training would transport these participants to a warehouse for observation and training purposes.

The program required officers to locate and observe 15 civilian drug users in order to become certified as an ‘expert;’ sometimes two officers would receive credit for an individual subject. This training is ardently defended by program advocates in the law enforcement community and is used to “convict people of driving crimes every day” in Minnesota, according to the blog of attorney Nathan Hansen who is representing the test subjects in court.

The plaintiffs are arguing for the “right to bodily integrity” and freedom from coercion, according to Alan Milstein, who has partnered with Nathan Hansen on this case. Some of the subjects were allegedly told by officers that they must either participate with the testing or be brought to the station, presumably to be arrested. Furthermore, several officers during the course of their training testified in deposition hearings to confiscating drugs and providing them to these test subjects.

Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel previously determined that instances in which officers provided the subjects with drugs would amount to a clear violation of the program’s guidelines. Hutchinson Police Department officer Karl Willers declared in his original deposition that in order to be involved with the DRE program one must, “leave [their] morals at the door.”

“Common sense tells you that it’s impossible to walk the streets and find people who will admit to being high,” Attorney Alan Milstein explained. Many of the officers involved with the DRE program acted on this logic prompting them to offer drugs to subjects which, according to the blog of Nathan Hansen, “the police obtained … by stealing them from people in a park in Dakota County.”

When asked about whether or not any of the instructors questioned if trainees were giving drugs to subjects, officer Willers responded, “no.” When asked whether the instructors told them not to give drugs to subjects he also answered, “no.” More damning testimony came when Willers was asked, “Did anyone tell you to make the drugs disappear after [the documentary] came out?” To which he responded, “yes.” This admission of destruction of potential evidence is alarming given the fact that the defense is completely reliant on procedural rules to dismiss evidence which would support the plaintiff’s case.

Plaintiffs urged the Court to move the process forward and sought a jury trial. Their opposition (the government) argued there is simply not enough evidence for summary judgment and petitioned the court with three motions that would effectively end the case. The defense argues that the court must consider each individual allegation of an officer handing drugs to subjects which would in turn protect the integrity of the program, somewhat like the commonplace “a few bad apples” defense.

In a way, under the proposed standard set forth by the defense team, the program is immune to any legal scrutiny. Anything short of a participant wearing a hidden camera or microphone would not be admissible as evidence in court as the subjects are inebriated and thus improper witnesses. Muddying the waters further is the fact that there were multiple jurisdictions involved in the program which made identification of specific officer names and departments much more difficult for the subjects. This is especially true given the fact that many of the subjects were people experiencing homelessness and were unfamiliar with law enforcement outside of Minneapolis. Names and places like Kanabec County would be difficult to remember even for someone who was completely sober yet surrounded by a litany of imposing government officials from various municipalities.

In the depositions of several of the graduates of the training, many could also not recall the names or identifying features of subjects they were trained on.

On the subject of names, the following comes from Attorney Nathan Hansen’s blog:
“One of the overarching themes of this program is that test subjects were given fake names, presumably to make sure their actual participation in this program could be concealed at a later date. Official DRE logs are replete with fake names and falsified police reports (fascinating how Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman forgot about Minnesota Statute 609.505, falsely reporting crime, in his charging decision relating to the DRE program). Officers testified under oath at these depositions that they put false names and false events in their official reports.” Obviously fake names like ‘Homer Simpson’ and ‘Huey Lewis’ were penned in on official forms and never questioned by DRE officiators.

In his deposition, Hutchinson officer Karl Willers stated that he gave test subjects marijuana, “four or five times.” Willers also observed one subject smoke crack cocaine, a drug which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, seizure or respiratory failure, and can result in instant death. The deposition exposed that this crack smoking had been done in the Minneapolis Police Department Fifth Precinct building. Sanctioned use of crack in a government building somehow has not amounted to repercussions for the program thus far. No paramedics or related medical professionals were present during this occasion or at the warehouse where the majority of the DRE training program took place.

This disturbing lack of medical ethics and the enticement of people to do something that potentially causes serious harm or death is an egregious oversight. Institutional review boards are used in legitimate medical studies to balance the inherent ethical concerns.

[The question and answer above was taken from the deposition; “me” meaning the attorneys representing the test subjects.]

One subject was identified as having a second grade reading level and is clearly overly trusting of strangers, especially those in positions of authority. This participant was approached by officers and asked if she’d like to take part in, “a little survey.” The Post has decided not to publish that person’s name, but learned that they decided to participate with the law enforcement officials out of concern for friends who already had. This test subject was explicitly instructed to not use their real name on official forms. At the hearing, these concerns were brought up as a matter of consent. Is this person, who is clearly a vulnerable person, able to provide consent as the test subjects had done either willingly or under duress? This will prove to be a vital topic of debate should a trial by jury occur.

Compounding these facts, the program cultivated relationships that spawned from these interactions. Many of the subjects of these tests were offered food, cigarettes and similar gifts in exchange for information on the Occupy movement. When the FBI investigated this program, one activist offered his services as an informant without realizing that the Bureau was actually probing the DRE program and not Occupy.

Hardly a word of these improper and cozy relationships being groomed between law enforcement and DRE test subjects was brought up at the hearing, yet many in the activist community question if there was more to this program than merely training officers to recognize drug use.

Dan Feidt was part of the team that produced the documentary which exposed the DRE program. Feidt says, “the training program wasn’t just about finding intoxicated people, it was to teach young officers how to control behavior, get information out of people, create incentives for people to inform on others in their community.”

According to an unabashed proclamation from the defense, Occupy Minnesota was a “golden opportunity to find drug users.” Simultaneous to that assertion was the argument that this government sponsored drugging did not in anyway chill the First Amendment activity taking place on Peavey Plaza. That claim was rebuked by Milstein who pointed out that under the law, the mere targeting of people at a protest constituted a violation of the law. Drug use was included in the official pretext for pushing Occupy activists off of Peavey Plaza and has continuously been used by detractors to discredit the movement.

The defense will continue the fight against this program which, according to Milstein has, “no good public use for how officers conducted the program.”

Watch the independent documentary that started it all:

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