A high-profile Missouri narcotics enforcement officer routinely forced patients in a court-mandated drug treatment program to work as undercover informants or face severe legal consequences, a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month alleges.
Kenneth Allen and Jan Allen are plaintiffs in the suit filed Aug. 1 in the U.S. District Court in St. Louis. They previously operated the Meramec Recovery Center, which served as the primary service provider for the Franklin County drug court between 2000 and 2013.
The Allens allege that Franklin County Sheriff’s Lt. Jason Grellner, a former regional drug task force commander who recently lost a bid for county sheriff, exploited vulnerable people who were seeking treatment under the terms of drug court agreements that would allow them to avoid harsher punishments, such as incarceration. If these individuals didn’t cooperate, Grellner would threaten to tell the judge they had failed to meet their requirements and should thereby be expelled from the program, the lawsuit claims.
Law enforcement is notoriously reliant on confidential informants to build narcotics cases. While drug courts are intended to divert lower-risk defendants into rehabilitation, some law enforcement officials have expressed concern that these programs make it harder for them to recruit informants. Some state and county drug courts explicitly declare that participants will not be asked to serve as informants, and forbid anyone serving as an informant from partaking in treatment programs. Missouri’s rulebook does not include such language.
The participants Grellner allegedly targeted saw a “significant decrease” in success because they were required to “associate with other drug users/distributors, which led them to revert to the habits which led to their arrests and placement in Drug Court in the first instance,” the lawsuit states.
Kenneth Allen confronted Grellner after learning of his actions, but instead of backing down, Grellner ramped up efforts to leverage drug court participants into serving as informants, the lawsuit claims. Grellner also allegedly began “spreading false rumors” about the Allens and Meramec, in hopes of turning key officials against the treatment center.
In August 2013, Meramec received notice from the Missouri State Courts Administrator that its contract with the county had been terminated. The lawsuit alleges that this was the result of a concerted effort by Grellner and other county officials, including a former county prosecutor and case managers with the drug court, to discredit Meramec and bring in another treatment provider.
Shortly after the county severed its contract with Meramec, it inked a new deal with Bridgeway Behavioral Health, which the suit also names as a defendant. This was an improper breach of contract, the lawsuit says. The plaintiffs are now seeking punitive damages for lost revenue.
While the lawsuit’s allegations primarily cover the period leading up to the termination of Meramec’s contract with the county, it also claims Grellner is still coercing participants in court-mandated drug treatment programs to serve as informants. Additionally, it accuses Grellner of having forced “participants to act as campaign aides in his election bid for Sheriff of Franklin County under threat of elimination from Drug Court.”
The suit claims Grellner used drug court participants as informants because it was an easy way for him to rack up drug arrests, which would allow him to “proclaim to the public that he was successful in ridding Franklin County of drug-related crimes for the purpose of getting elected to the office of Sheriff in the 2016 election year.” Grellner also stood to benefit financially from a new contract with a provider that wouldn’t object to his tactics, the suit alleges.
Grellener did not respond to The Huffington Post’s request for comment. But asked earlier about claims that he’d used drug court participants as informants, Grellner reportedly told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the allegations are “100 percent incorrect.” He also characterized the lawsuit as a politically motivated attempt to disrupt his campaign for sheriff.