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Report: Devils Lake jail lacked medical training, policies

Rob Johnson tells the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center Board in August 2016 how he plans to lead the Devils Lake, N.D., jail as its director. April Baumgarten / Forum News Service

DEVILS LAKE—A report on a Devils Lake jail that has been threatened with closure details numerous violations, including a lack of written policies in multiple areas, alleged group strip searches that violate federal laws and undertrained staff.

The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOC) has given the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center until Oct. 1 to fix several violations discovered during an inspection in early August. Inspectors listed 40 violations in documents obtained by the Herald.

"(LEC) policies have not been updated since October 2015," the report stated. "Many policies were inadequate to provide staff with clear and concise direction for operations. ... When (inspectors) asked about the post orders, (LEC) staff did not even know what post orders were."

Post orders are written documents that outline duties, responsibilities and expectations for officers.

Federal inmates have been removed, cutting the inmate count in half and putting a dent in the LEC's income.

If the jail does not correct certain violations within 30 days, it will be closed, according to the DOC's orders issued Sept. 1.

The jail has made moves to meet the orders, LEC Director Rob Johnson said Friday. Staff is in "constant communications" with the DOC, and Johnson said he is confident the jail will not close.

"Believe it or not, we've actually made a lot of progress over the last year or so," he said. "This is just an indicator of how far we have to go.

The most critical of the violations, according to the DOC, was the lack of a healthcare administrator since February, and no documentation medical training for jail staff.

There is no proof staff have been trained to handle emergency situations; administer first-aid and CPR training; recognizing mental illness, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance and chemical dependency; and are qualified to deliver medicine, the DOC said.

Staff also failed to perform health appraisals of inmates in a timely manner, the report stated.

The jail hired a doctor in late August and plans to medically train its staff, Johnson said.

The LEC doesn't require fire drills or have plans in place if severe weather, like tornadoes, occur, according to the report. Staff also do not know how to manually override the locking system in the event of a fire or power outage, the report stated.

Johnson said he was unaware staff were not trained to do that.

"Our staff should know that," he said.

There is no policy on use of restraints for pregnant women, the transfer of medical records or prescription medication, notification to crime victims and witnesses or inmate death notification.

The LEC also couldn't provide a copy of its suicide prevention plan.

At least one inmate's death, John W. Wilkie Jr., 42, was ruled a suicide when he was found dead in May 2015 in a holding cell. An investigation found he ingested alcohol and a mixture of medications.

There were indications he was suicidal, but officers felt he didn't need medical treatment, so he was taken to the LEC for detox. The jail was short-staffed the night of his death and didn't check on him enough, according to the BCI.

No charges were filed.

Inmates complained to DOC inspectors about access to medical services but felt they were safe and were treated by staff with respect.

Because the jail doesn't have a kitchen, it orders food from a local restaurant. During the inspection, investigators noted the food containers were not searched for contraband.

The DOC alleges the LEC allowed "unclothed searches of inmates returning from court to be conducted as a group in front of the booking area in view of other staff, inmates and master controls." The DOC stated the LEC's policies on searches violate requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Johnson said he plans to contest the group strip search allegations, saying he is unaware of any such incident.

"That's not how we operate," he said.

There are no policies on cross-gender or transgender searches, the DOC said.

Other violations include multiple housing areas having one toilet for 14 to 18 inmates when it should have two, being unable to verify inventory and an absence of an inmate population management plan.

'Kick in the butt'

It's rare for a facility in North Dakota to have as many violations as the LEC or to come under threat of being closed, said Don Redmann, director of facility operations with the DOC. Another visit is planned to review progress, he added.

"I believe and have faith that they're committed to (improving)," he said. "I know they are putting in significant effort based on conversations to date."

Johnson said the LEC had a young staff, adding they have gained experience. He also cited outdated policies, some of which are 30 years old. He estimated there are 160 policies that need to be reviewed.

"It's been a long process, and we have been working on that," he said. "Now it has become the highest priority to what we are doing."

The jail is more than 40 years old and is in need of capital updates, as Johnson and the DOC noted. It's unclear how much the jail would spend on updates or a new facility, if possible.

But with the decrease in inmate counts, the probable solution is increasing costs to those who use the facility—mainly Devils Lake and five surrounding counties.

Johnson admitted staff may not meet all training requirements by the deadline, but he said the DOC may give the LEC leeway as long as it is making progress.

"I feel they have done us a service," he said of the DOC's inspection. "Nobody wants to deal with these types of situations, but we are looking at it with a positive attitude, as giving us the road map we need and ... maybe a little kick in the butt to make sure that we are making steady progress."

To review the report, visit grandforksherald.com.

Herald reporter Andrew Hazzard contributed to this report.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers business and political stories. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248
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