Prosecutors have decided not to file any charges against officers involved in a now-suspended drug training program run by the Minnesota State Patrol. Activists with the Occupy MN movement alleged that officers in the class gave them marijuana.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges, but that the investigation revealed concerns about the program.
The shocking allegations surfaced last May. A video released by Occupy MN activists claimed officers in the Drug Recognition Evaluator program did far more than observe people who already appeared to be under the influence. The young people claimed the officers gave them marijuana to help them get high.
As incredible as the story seemed, it appeared to gain some credence days later, after one of the officers in the training came forward. He claimed he saw a police officer from Hutchinson give away the pot. That prompted state public safety officials to suspend the training and launch a criminal investigation.
But Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said there were just too many inconsistencies in the various accounts.
"A number of the officers denied the allegations. When you evaluate the evidence between what one officer said against the other, sometimes it directly contradicted, but it certainly didn't corroborate," Freeman said. "You took the information provided by Occupy MN and balance it up — it didn't support it. When you put it all together, you had contradictory statements of what happened, and what occurred."
Freeman said there was confusion about the dates on which the alleged drug distribution occurred, the names of the officers and which agencies they were from.
Freeman said the officer who came forward stuck by his story, but he threw away marijuana that could have been used as evidence.
The county attorney says he's not sure in the end if there was any wrongdoing, but he still has concerns about the program.
"There needs to be additional field supervision," Freeman said. "In my view, I don't think you should send cops out who are taking a course like this, who may not have had much experience with urban drug culture, to find people who are taking drugs, without a lot of supervision."
Freeman is recommending an immediate internal review of the program, which he hopes would improve oversight. He also suggested providing clearer expectations to the officers and improving coordination with local law enforcement agencies.
Every spring, the training brings together police and other law enforcement officers from around the state to teach them about various classifications of illicit drugs. The students then are required to go out into the field and perform 15 evaluations on test subjects who appear to be under the influence of those narcotics.
The state Department of Public Safety's commissioner, Mona Dohman, said she appreciates Freeman's recommendations. A top-to-bottom review is already underway, she said.
Spokesman Bruce Gordon says the training remains suspended.
"While no criminal charges will be filed, our scrutiny of the DRE program will continue. We have an internal affairs investigation that we're actively engaged in," Gordon said. "Commissioner Dohman has said she will not reinstate DRE training until we determine the appropriate actions necessary to restore public confidence and ensure the integrity of this very important program."
One Minnesota State Patrol trooper, Nick Otterson, was placed on administrative leave after the allegations surfaced, but officials confirm he has since returned to work.
An MPR News investigation found that the first-year coordinator of the program, Sgt. Rick Munoz, has a track record of disciplinary problems for unprofessional behavior. Asked if Munoz will continue to lead the program, Gordon would only say that the internal affairs investigation is ongoing.