DRE scandal: Ruling opens door to finding out where cops got their pot

The DRE scandal resulted in no criminal charges, but some of the program's subjects are seeking substantial civil compensation.

The DRE scandal resulted in no criminal charges, but some of the program's subjects are seeking substantial civil compensation.

A federal judge has green-lighted a lawsuit brought by Occupy protesters against law enforcement agencies that allegedly gave them pot as part of officers' Drug Recognition Expert training.

The ruling means the case is headed toward a trial that could reveal where officers got the pot they allegedly doled out to protesters in exchange for their participation in the controversial program, which was the subject of a five-part City Pages series.

See also:

Contradicting published reports, Mark Dayton now denies telling moms to buy pot off street

"In light of the clear prohibition on providing illicit drugs to citizens," the State Patrol and other law enforcement organizations such as the Olmsted and Nobles counties' sheriff's offices "are not entitled to the protection of qualified immunity," U.S. District Judge John Tunheim writes in his ruling.

The lawsuit alleges officers violated Occupy protesters' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights in disrupting the Occupy protests by hauling people away from places like downtown Minneapolis's Peavey Plaza so they could get high and have their behavior monitored.

The idea was that officers could learn to quickly identify what drug or drugs a person has been using by observing links between use, behavior, and physical appearance (dilated eyes, for example), but a documentary video released by local independent media activists in the spring of 2012 and a subsequent investigation indicated the whole thing was more small-town cops wilding out in the city than it was serious research.

Law enforcement "designed and implemented a pernicious human research experiment exposing young people from minority and/or disadvantaged backgrounds to various illegal drugs in an effort use these individuals as human guinea pigs for the benefit of law enforcement," North St. Paul attorney Nathan Hansen and New Jersey attorney Alan Milstein write in a summary of their suit.

"Not only was the experiment unethical by design, the defendants conducted their research without the informed consent of the human subjects, thus violating the most essential ethical requirements which form the basis of our laws and regulations governing human subject research."

Reached for comment this morning, Hansen offered this succinct breakdown of the case: "It's about your right not to be messed with."

"They're really vulnerable people [officers] preyed upon," Hansen says, noting that some who allegedly received drugs have mental illnesses. "They're treated as sub-human -- would you treat your kids like this?"

"It's really absurd," he adds. "I'm amazed there are so many people with college degrees who think this is something that's okay."

The non-classroom portion of the DRE program is no longer offered in Minnesota, but local officers are now shipped to California for a similar sort of training.

In the lawsuit, Hansen and Milstein demand a jury trial and specify they're seeking more than $2,000,000 in damages.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]