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After 2020 arrest, former treatment director sues East Grand Forks, police

Amber Hardtke, who now works at a different treatment center in Minnesota, alleges her constitutional rights were violated.

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Amber Hardtke, the treatment director at Douglas Place, a housing and addiction treatment center off Hwy. 2 in East Grand Forks, was arrested Jan. 23, 2020 by East Grand Forks police.
Photo by Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

EAST GRAND FORKS — A former administrator at an East Grand Forks treatment center is suing the city and two police officers that she alleges violated her Fourth Amendment rights, unlawfully arrested her, and maliciously prosecuted her after she refused to help them execute a search warrant in early 2020.

Sgt. Tony Hart and Lt. Rod Hajicek of the East Grand Forks Police Department arrested Amber Hardtke on Jan. 23, 2020, after she declined to help them execute a search warrant at Douglas Place, a residential drug treatment center off Highway 2 at which Hardtke was the treatment director. The officers were looking for someone’s intake and discharge paperwork, documents Hardtke claimed were confidential under federal privacy laws.

“Ms. Hardtke had no legal obligation to assist the defendant officers in locating the records they were directed to search for and seize,” her lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 22, 2021, reads. “Sgt. Hart and Lt. Hajicek were free to search Douglas Place for the records identified in the search warrant and to seize the same records upon locating them during the search. Instead of carrying out their legal duties to search the property and locate the records, they demanded assistance from Ms. Hardtke and, when she refused to cooperate in their unlawful demands for assistance, they arrested and charged her with two counts of obstruction of legal process.”

Those two misdemeanor charges appeared in Minnesota’s court records system shortly after Hardtke’s arrest, but East Grand Forks City Attorney Ron Galstad agreed to dismiss them on Jan. 28, 2020.

Hardtke still works for the company that owns Douglas Place – Meridian Behavioral Health – but transferred from the East Grand Forks center in September of 2020. She is now a clinical supervisor at another treatment center in Stillwater, Minnesota.

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Related: East Grand Forks arrest preceded by sharp criticisms

The federal privacy law that Hardtke cited is a supplement to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – abbreviated to “HIPAA” – that bars organizations like Douglas Place from releasing patient records in response to a warrant unless the patient allows it.

Hardtke’s lawsuit alleges that Hart and Hajicek violated her Fourth Amendment rights when they arrested her and that the city did the same by not adequately training its officers that private citizens don’t have to help them execute a search warrant. The lawsuit also claims that the officers arrested Hardtke without legal justification and prosecuted her without probable cause or reasonable belief that their prosecution would succeed. It asks the court to award unspecified compensation to Hardtke and unspecific punitive damages to the city and the two officers.

The city and officers’ lawyers must file a response to Hardtke’s lawsuit by Feb. 17.

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