Family of man who died in Cass County Jail cell seeks answers

“Somebody dropped the ball,” Luke Michael Laducer’s sister, Diana DeCoteau, said in a recent interview with The Forum. “Nobody should die like that.”

Diana DeCoteau of Belcourt, N.D., talks Friday, Feb. 5, in Fargo about her brother Luke LaDucer who died in the Cass County Jail. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — Ever since Luke Michael Laducer died last year in a cell at the Cass County Jail, his family has been asking a lot of questions, including why medical staff cleared him to go to jail after he told 911 dispatchers he was suicidal before he was found by police intoxicated in his blood-smeared apartment.

His sisters feel those questions have not been answered.

“Somebody dropped the ball,” Laducer’s sister, Diana DeCoteau, said in a recent interview with The Forum. “Nobody should die like that.”

Laducer died from natural causes after experiencing a medical emergency in his cell on Dec. 18, according to the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. The Fargo man was 41 years old.

The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating the death. BCI spokeswoman Liz Brocker confirmed Monday, Feb. 8. The case remains open, so any documents related to the incident remain exempt from open records laws.


Laducer was booked early Dec. 18 into the Cass County Jail after Essentia Hospital cleared him medically, DeCoteau said. Police arrested him on a warrant, saying he was wanted on a Class B felony charge of unauthorized use of personal identifying information to obtain credit over $1,000, according to court documents.

Throughout the day, jail staff checked on him and saw no indication he needed medical assistance until 5:16 p.m. on Dec. 18, when a deputy noticed something was wrong, according to a sheriff's office news release.

Officers administered life-saving measures in an attempt to revive Laducer, the release said. Sheriff Jesse Jahner said he believes staff treated Laducer with “an extreme amount of care,” did everything they could to save him and responded appropriately to an extreme situation.

“The efforts that I saw on the video from the guys trying to revive him were very exceptional,” Jahner said. “They worked on him for a long time to try to bring him back.”

DeCoteau noted Jahner has been overly accommodating, but she and her sister, Janice Poitra, said they feel there is more to the story.

“Nothing is ever as it seems,” she said. “You’re not going to bleed to death and not be in pain.”


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Luke Laducer is seen in this photo last year before he died at the Cass County Jail. Special to The Forum

'Always laughing'

Laducer grew up in Belcourt, N.D., where his sisters still live. The youngest of eight children, he was born when DeCoteau was graduating high school.

DeCoteau and sister Poitra took on the responsibility of caring for him since their parents didn’t have daycare for him, which meant he felt more like a son than a brother, she said.

Laducer was happy-go-lucky and told jokes all the time, she added.

“Luke was always laughing,” DeCoteau said. “He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”

He enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 2001 and served for four years, including two in South Korea. He was honorably discharged in 2015, according to his obituary.

He married and had four children — the oldest is 16 years old and the youngest is 7 years old. He worked at Turtle Mountain High School, his obituary said.


“He was a wonderful father,” DeCoteau said. “He cooked. He cleaned. He took care of his babies.”

But he was a different person after he came back from deployment, DeCoteau said. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he struggled with alcoholism. He fell on hard times and eventually moved to Fargo, she said.

He was seeking help through the Veteran Affairs Office in Fargo and was on his way to recovery, DeCoteau said.

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Luke Laducer was a U.S. Army veteran. Special to The Forum

Questions about what happened

DeCoteau said she didn’t know much about the arrest warrant. Court documents state someone gave Laducer a credit card to buy groceries for the accuser. Laducer returned with the groceries but forgot to give the card back, according to court documents. The criminal complaint alleged Laducer withdrew $1,300 from the card without permission.

The case was dismissed after his death.

DeCoteau and Poitra described the timeline of events given to them by the BCI that led up to their brother’s death. He was taken to Essentia Hospital in Fargo after calling 911 and being found in his apartment, she said. The sisters said there was blood all over the apartment.


“We didn’t go into his apartment until after Christmas to clean it out, ... and that was the first thing we noticed,” she said.

DeCoteau said they don’t know if the blood came from internal bleeding that led to his death at the jail or something else. The family knew he had problems with intestinal bleeding that began two years before he died, she said.

Officers must have seen the blood, and that should have been an indicator that he needed medical attention, DeCoteau said.

DeCoteau said Laducer was drunk enough to be considered near death. Essentia cleared him medically to go to jail after being at the hospital for 11 minutes, DeCoteau said, recalling what the BCI told her.

He was still intoxicated when he appeared for the felony charge at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 18, DeCoteau said.

Laducer’s family has not been told why he was cleared to go to jail, especially when he was extremely intoxicated, DeCoteau said. They also haven’t been told whether he was in distress while at the jail or if staff noticed anything before his death, she said.

“He was obviously intoxicated the entire time,” she said. “Why didn’t he get the medical attention he needed?”


Cass County Jail in Fargo.
Cass County Jail in Fargo. Forum file photo
Forum file photo

Pressing for answers

The BCI declined to confirm the timeline of events leading up to Laducer’s booking.

“Even when a case is closed, we do not discuss the case,” Brocker said.

Essentia also declined to comment on the details of Laducer’s hospital visit.

“At Essentia Health, the safety and well-being of our patients and the communities we serve is our highest priority,” Essentia said in a statement. “Although we grieve with the deceased’s family and friends, we respect the privacy of others and do not comment on or provide information related to the evaluation or care provided to patients or others seeking our help.”

Cass County is equipped for detox and observing suicidal subjects. Jail staff are required to do checks every half hour, but in Laducer’s case, that was happening more frequently, sometimes every 15 minutes, Jahner said.

“He never asked for medical assistance from staff,” Jahner said.

DeCoteau said her brother told jail staff he didn’t feel well, but he declined medical attention.


Laducer’s sisters said they are not accusing jail staff or Essentia of wrongdoing, but they want answers. They are working with a state senator for further investigation, she said.

When asked if they would seek legal action, the sisters said it is on their minds.

“We’re not going to leave any stone unturned,” DeCoteau said. “We’re not going to quit until we get the answers we need.”

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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