By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - A Minnesota training program that teaches police how to identify drug-impaired drivers is under fire following allegations that a participating officer gave marijuana to a test volunteer.
The allegation, leveled by another officer in the program, followed reports from anti-Wall Street demonstrators that police plucked Occupy Minneapolis members from a plaza in downtown Minneapolis for the training, gave them marijuana and watched them use drugs.
Minnesota has launched criminal and internal public safety investigations into the single allegation and suspended the program, in which officers use citizens off the street as test subjects. There are similar programs in 48 states.
Authorities have not directly connected the Occupy allegations to the investigation, but have said officers identified test subjects at the plaza where Occupy has been meeting as well as other locations.
Forest Olivier, an Occupy protester, testified at a Minneapolis City Council committee hearing on May 2 that he went with police to a training site voluntarily several times.
"They gave me a full bag of weed and they gave me a pipe to smoke it out of," Olivier told the hearing.
A 35-minute video produced by Minnesota independent media groups, including Twin Cities IndyMedia and Occupy Minneapolis, and released this month showed uniformed officers picking up and dropping off young adults from the plaza in marked squad cars.
Occupy demonstrators interviewed on the video, including Olivier, said they were given drugs and then observed by dozens of officers. No officers are shown offering people drugs.
In one exchange, a protester tells an officer that other police had given him drugs, and the officer responds that he was only looking for people who are already impaired.
Minnesota public safety spokesman Bruce Gordon said: "If additional information becomes available we will widen the scope of the investigation."
Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman suspended the program on May 9 "pending the outcome of these investigations and until we revisit and review the curriculum of the program."
The program trains officers to act as drug recognition evaluators through classes and a dozen evaluations using volunteers from the community.
The investigation was launched after an officer who participated in the training reported witnessing a Hutchinson, Minnesota, police officer give marijuana to a potential test subject. Hutchinson Police Chief Dan Hatten said on Monday that the officer remains on scheduled duty.
(Additional reporting by Edith Honan in New York and Andrew Stern in Chicago; editing by Greg McCune and Mohammad Zargham)