Police Harassment at MMT Clinics

by Sandy
December 18, 1999

This is a problem that some MMT patients have to deal with regularly. Local and state police sit outside the clinic waiting to arrest people on warrants, or they stop people as they are leaving the clinic on “traffic stops” , then run warrant checks on them.

It happened to me last year. While I was at my clinic waiting to be dosed, I was approached by a fellow that lived near me. He asked if I could give him a ride the following day because he was having transportation problems. There is no public transportation where I live and a car is necessary to get to the clinic.

The next morning as we neared the clinic, I noticed a State Police car was parked down the street. After dosing, we were driving out of the lot and the patrol car pulled us over. The officer said my passenger had an outstanding warrant as a ‘fugitive from justice’ from another state. He was arrested, and I was asked for my license and registration.

When he ran my license, information came back that I owed $35.00 to the court for a ticket I had received five years previously. I told the cop I would go right to the court and pay it. He wouldn’t accept that, and I was also arrested. My car was searched from top to bottom. Just to prove how ignorant this police officer was about drugs and paraphernalia, he pulled out a cotton ball I had used for removing nail polish, and said, “I got you now”. He said the cotton ball had been used while I was injecting drugs. I explained that I had used the cotton ball for removing nail polish. He apparently believed me as I wasn’t charged for additional offenses.

Even though the Clinic Director came outside and told the officers my car could be parked in the clinic lot, my car was still towed. I felt this was done just so I would get stuck with the towing and storage charges.

As I was being handcuffed the officer noticed some healed track marks on my hand. This seemed to put him over the edge! Thankfully, another police officer, who was very nice, drove me to the station. He told me not to worry, that once they had booked me I would be driven to the court, and given a chance to pay the fine. Little did I know what I would have to go through before I got to the court house.

When I arrived at the police station, I was back in the care of “Officer Roache”. Now remember, I was not being arrested on a drug charge, and neither was my passenger. His ‘fugitive warrant’ was from Virginia. He had been on probation there for non-payment of child support. When the state of Virginia was called, they said they had no interest in extradicting him. Once again, the cop went nuts. Saying that this man “JS” was now going to cause “trouble for the state of Massachusetts”. Once in the station, I was handcuffed to the wall because they didn’t have facilities for women prisoners. I was fingerprinted and a mug shot was taken. I was never read my Miranda rights. When they took my picture at the station they wrote on the back of the picture. “Methadone clinic”.

They also asked me a lot of questions about other clients on the clinic and about drugs. I told the cop I hadn’t been arrested for a drug violation, and was curious why he asking me all these questions. He then asked me if I would work on the drug task force turning people in for drug offenses. I told him I was not willing to do that, and again asked him why I was being asked these questions about drugs. He kept saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. He repeatedly asked where I bought my drugs. He refused to believe that I hadn’t used drugs for many years because I was still on methadone. He didn’t seem to think an addict could ever stop using, whether on MMT or not. He then told me if he wanted to, he could call my boss and tell her I was a drug addict. “Officer Roache” also told me, “At least I waited until you got your dose before arresting you”. It seemed as if he were granting me the biggest favor in the world.

It was unbelievable to me! I told him he could go right ahead and call my boss but I wasnt having anything to do with a drug task force. I was threatened and harrassed for over three hours by this ‘public servant’. The man who was arrested with me was subject to the same harassment. Finally, it was time to be driven to the courthouse. Before I left, I overheard “Officer Roache” call the drug task force office. He told the person on the other end of the phone, “I have someone for you”. He told them I was being taken to the courthouse, and they should put some additonal pressure on me at that time. I don’t know what happened because I never had the pleasure of meeting the “Drug Task Force” cop. Another cop drove me to the courthouse and he started asking me questions about heroin. He asked me where I bought drugs, where I got syringes, and who my friends were. I told him the same thing I told the other cop, that I wasn’t being arrested on a drug charge, and I couldn’t understand why they continued questioning me. I also told him I did not do heroin, and hadn’t for many years. He asked me questions about my passenger. When I explained he was only an acquaintance, the patrolman acted like he thought I was lying.

After I went before the Judge at the courthouse, I was immediately released. My “crime” ie; owing a small fine for a traffic violation, was dismissed. I promptly paid the fine. Unfortunately, it cost me over $140.00 for a cab to pick up my car, the towing fee and storage charge.

After this incident, I considered hiring a lawyer and suing for harrassment. I also considered calling the ACLU. I ended up doing neither. I live in a small community, and I have a good job. I am a medical professional. Very few people know I am on methadone, and I have managed to keep my drug addiction hidden from almost everyone. I didn’t want to risk my job and my anonymity. Something needs to be done about harrassment of MMT patients, though. I no longer attend this particular clinic, but, up until the time I transferred, people were still being stopped and harrassed. How often do you see a police car parked in front of a kidney dialysis center stopping patients and running warrant checks? How often do people leaving a doctor’s office or a pharmacy get stopped and arrested? People on methadone are on a prescribed medical treatment, and, not only have to endure being treated unfairly by the very staff that are supposed to be our treatment providers, we also have to worry about cops waiting for us to get our treatment.

I don’t know what the answer is. One thing I do know, is that since the methadone clinic was opened in my area the crime rate has decreased significantly. I would think the police would take this into consideration before harrassing and trying to scare people from going to the clinic. Hopefully, some day we will be treated just like any other group of patients, and not like criminals.