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Settlement Reached in SD Over Unlawful Drug Tests

According to a recently approved settlement, five people will each get between $75,000 and $99,000 for unlawful drug testing ordered by a handful of law-enforcement agencies in South Dakota. (Adobe Stock)
According to a recently approved settlement, five people will each get between $75,000 and $99,000 for unlawful drug testing ordered by a handful of law-enforcement agencies in South Dakota. (Adobe Stock)
September 17, 2020

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- A settlement tied to claims of unlawful drug tests issued by several South Dakota law-enforcement agencies has won approval in federal court.

The judge ruled more than $400,000 will be split among those who were the subject of forced catheterizations after they were suspected of being drug users. In April, the judge ruled those tests violated the Fourth Amendment.

Jim Leach, an attorney in Rapid City, worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota on the case on behalf of the individuals.

He said there was little question these people had used drugs, but that doesn't mean the actions of police were justified.

"What it gets to is a point in constitutional law that says that police cannot use every possible method to obtain criminal evidence in a case," Leach said.

The agencies named in the lawsuit were police departments in Pierre, Sisseton and Wagner, as well as the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

South Dakota is the only state where ingesting a controlled substance is considered a felony.

Activists say cases such as this underscore the need for the state to adopt criminal-justice reform.

Supporters of that approach hope South Dakota takes a step forward if voters approve a ballot measure this November that would legalize marijuana for those 21 and older.

Meanwhile, Leach said for his clients, the aggressive tactics may have resulted in a settlement, but the emotional scars will linger.

"They all have problems, afterwards, from it," Leach said. "And they're pleased, mainly, that this is never likely to happen to anyone again."

In these situations, police obtained search warrants for urine samples to detect the presence of drugs.

None of those warrants specifically authorized forced catheterization as a means of obtaining evidence.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD