Lawsuit: Officers Gave Protesters Marijuana as 'Experiment'

Posted at: 07/22/2013 7:57 PM
Updated at: 07/23/2013 10:52 AM
By: Mark Albert

It all began with a zoomed-in video shot at a distance and later posted on YouTube.

The footage showed law enforcement officers interacting with Occupy Minnesota protestors at Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis in April 2012.

At least one man could be seen putting his belongings in the back of a squad car and getting inside, unrestrained, before the vehicle drives away.

"There are officers that are giving people marijuana to smoke," one man tells an officer on the video.

When someone replies, "Well, that's not true," the original speaker says, "No, it is, because I did it."

That video, and several similar ones, led to an officer being placed on leave, a state training program suspended, and now a federal lawsuit that seeks more than $1 million.

On Monday, attorneys for Occupy demonstrators who claim officers gave them marijuana to smoke as part of a Drug Recognition Evaluation program and lawyers for the counties and cities where the law enforcement personnel worked squared off in a ninth-floor courtroom at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis.

The motion to dismiss was argued by attorneys for 26 officers in 18 agencies; the state has been dismissed from the lawsuit for now, even though the DRE program was set up, run, and administered by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

During the one-hour, five-minute hearing, the counties' attorney, Jason Hiveley, told Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel the 13-page complaint alleging constitutional violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments should be dismissed because the participants volunteered and were not forced to do anything.

"They all knew that they were using marijuana," Hiveley declared. "There was no experiment here... they knew exactly what they were getting into."

But Alan Milstein argued the clients he represents were indeed used in experiments as "guinea pigs" for officers carrying badges and guns who, under a training deadline, "coerced" demonstrators to get into the back of squad cars, got them high on marijuana, and then released them without medical care.

Milstein claims the arrangement violated their free speech rights because they were all protesters taken from an Occupy Minnesota demonstration in downtown Minneapolis.

The law enforcement officers "could have gone to a baseball game, a state park, college campus," to find participants, Milstein said after court in an interview.

"But they chose to target people who were exercising their First Amendment right."

Judge Noel took the motion under advisement and will rule later.

The DRE program was reinstated last month after widespread reforms, including contracting out the field training of officers to the California Highway Patrol.

A training session in California, however, has not yet been scheduled, a DPS spokesman told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Monday, because the annual training is usually conducted in the Spring. 

Read the original incident report here.

Read the Memorandum Motion to Dismiss here.