Minnesota officials revive touchy drug patrol program
By Patrick Condon
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota's public safety commissioner said Friday she's reinstating training for law enforcers on how to better spot drug users, because she's confident in changes aimed at resolving controversies the program caused.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman had suspended the drug recognition evaluator training program in May 2012, amid claims that officers involved gave people illegal drugs to participate. That sparked a criminal investigation into the behavior of several officers — though no one was ultimately charged — and a federal civil lawsuit.
From now on, while classroom training for those officers will continue in Minnesota, field training will be shifted to a California Highway Patrol course that certifies officers from around the country. The department also said it would strengthen oversight of Minnesota's program.
"It was imperative that we take these steps to restore public confidence and insure the integrity of this very important program," Dohman said. She called it a necessary component to keeping the roads safe from drivers impaired by drug use.
The drug evaluation program gives officers training meant to help them detect and remove drug-impaired drivers from the road. It started in Minnesota in 1991, and 48 other states have similar programs. It includes classroom work, where trainees learn about drug categories and physiology, and field training that in Minnesota had involved a required 12 evaluations on people impaired by drugs.
Shortly before the program's suspension, members of the Occupy Minnesota movement and others claimed police had picked them up at various locations and offered illegal drugs and other incentives to participate. One law enforcement officer came forward to say he saw a colleague give marijuana to a potential subject, but after a probe of the allegations, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman had declared an investigation found insufficient evidence to back up the claims.
A state trooper alleged to have been involved was placed on administrative leave for a time. State Patrol Col. Kevin Daly said he's back on the job. The program's one-time leader, State Patrol Sgt. Rick Munoz, has been removed from that post; Daly said Munoz is currently on leave not related to the drug recognition program.
Daly said 188 officers trained before the program was suspended have continued to perform the evaluations. The California program avoids the problem of recruiting volunteers by instead offering the opportunity to accused impaired drivers after they've been arrested and booked, Daly said. He said Minnesota officers who participate in the new program do so under the supervision of California officers, and will not be able to function as licensed officers during the training.
Daly said sending officers to California means Minnesota would be able to train fewer officers per year because of travel costs.
In February, six people who alleged officers tried to lure them into participating in practice evaluations filed a federal civil lawsuit. St. Paul attorney Nathan Hansen, representing those plaintiffs, said the Department of Public Safety and State Patrol were able to get themselves dropped as defendants because of the law that gives state governments immunity from federal civil suits.
Hansen said the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, is proceeding against several Minnesota county attorneys who supported the program. He's also trying to get Munoz added as a defendant by classifying him as an individual rather than an agent of the state.
"Nobody is taking any responsibility for this. No one's been fired," Hansen said. He said the training program should be scrapped entirely.
"It's people without medical backgrounds trying to claim that they can teach others, also without medical backgrounds, about the medical effects of drugs," Hansen said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.