Drug use haunts ex-Doobie Brother seeking police job

January 17, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SAN FRANCISCO -- John Hartman dreams of being a full-time police officer, walking a beat, chasing criminals and talking to kids about the dangers of drugs.

But he is finding that goal impossible to reach because of his first job. As one of the founding members of a 1970s rock band, the Doobie Brothers, he admits to having used marijuana, cocaine and hashish over a period of several years.

At 18, Mr. Hartman was the drummer for the band, which took the "doobie" in its name from a slang word for marijuana. Now 42, Mr. Hartman finds himself in the position of many members of the baby boom generation who dabbled in drugs decades ago and now must answer for acts in their youth.

Drug use was an occupational hazard of the times, Mr. Hartman argues, and he says the band's name was simply a marketing tool to capitalize on the then-widespread use of marijuana. The questions put to him by law-enforcement officials during various job interviews and two lie detector tests have not been about whether he inhaled -- for he has always admitted to some drug use -- but about how much of each drug he used and how often.

His answers have varied, due to a foggy memory, he says. Twenty police departments in Northern California have turned him down, even though he graduated from a reserve police academy in 1988 and worked for a police department for three years.

Mr. Hartman sought legal help, arguing that he was being discriminated against as a former drug user.

In a suit filed against the City of Petaluma in Marin County and its police department -- in which Mr. Hartman served as a reserve officer for three years, working the graveyard shift and garnering commendations -- Mr. Hartman claimed protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the federal law that broadened protection for people with various handicaps.

Last week, U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen in San Francisco dismissed Mr. Hartman's suit, ruling that he had established proof that he was a casual drug user, not a drug addict, and thus was not a disabled person. But Judge Jensen also ruled that a person could qualify as a disabled person by proving drug dependency through demonstrating that "major life activities" had been impaired by drugs.

The judge also ruled that the police department could have rejected Mr. Hartman because he had admitted to breaking the law and because of his lack of candor about past drug use.

Mr. Hartman, reached at his father's home in Pittsburgh, said he was upset by the decision. Having grown up in a military family and appreciating the work police do, he said, he had wanted to be a police officer for a long time. As for his drug use, he said it had been "a major liability" when applying for jobs in law enforcement.

As proof that he had a serious drug problem and that a "major life activity" had been limited because of his habit, Mr. Hartman said that band members had confronted him in 1975 and told him that his drug use was affecting the way he played the drums and that he was in danger of being kicked out. From that point on, Mr. Hartman said, he changed his life and stopped using drugs.

Cynthia L. Remmers, a lawyer for the police department and city, said that Mr. Hartman's suit stretched the idea of disability beyond what was intended by Congress and that such suits could clog the legal system in the future. She said the judge had expressed concern that there was a potential that "millions of people who puffed once or twice may start to think they are qualified for protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act."

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