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Felons' bills still not paid

A formal request for Stark County to pay a convict's medical bills may lead to a law suit, officials say.

Should the hospital win a law suit, the county could be held liable for medical bills from other convicts from years ago, said Tom Henning, Stark County state's attorney.

He recently received a letter from St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, requesting the county pay about $72,870 for Jacquelin Mink's hospital bills.

Mink has been convicted of charges stemming from an armed robbery, high-speed chase and a lengthy standoff at a Gladstone farmstead in June 2009.

She and her husband, Ashton Mink, ran out of the garage they had holed up in handcuffed together and firing guns.

Authorities shot Ashton Mink and Jacquelin Mink shot herself, authorities said. She was taken to St. Alexius to be treated and Henning said the county is not responsible for that bill.

"In accordance to North Dakota law, it's my opinion that they have to be prisoners before the county is obliged to pay for their medical expense," Henning said. "Since they were taken directly from the scene in ambulances to a couple of different hospitals, they did not become prisoners of Stark County."

However, a portion of the bill sent by St. Alexius may have been from follow-up surgery and the county will pay that portion if that's true, he said.

"Hopefully we don't have to go to court and they'll recognize that the position that we're taking is the right position," said Duane "Bucky" Wolf, Stark County Commission chairman. "It is important that we get it resolved one way or the other."

Henning brought the matter up before the county commission Tuesday.

"As I indicated to the commission, this formal claim would, in my mind, be preparatory to filing any possible legal action for them to file a lawsuit disputing our determination that they weren't prisoners. I'm expecting a law suit," Henning said.

If the county lost a suit, other hospitals could request tit pay for bills from years past which could establish a precedent that does not exist, Henning said.

How much the county might end up owing is unclear, since the county was not billed for past incidents where suspects received medical care prior to being taken into custody, he added.

"We're talking a lot of money," Wolf said. "Hopefully we don't get stuck with having to pay those bills, but you never know."

The county would likely see if insurance would cover those costs, he added.

"If not, it would have to come out of the general fund and that would be big," Wolf said. "That's a huge expenditure."

Jacquelin and Ashton Mink were not arrested or transported in police vehicles until they were released from hospitals, Henning said.

However, the county paid for security at both hospitals during their stay. Henning expects this to be St. Alexius's argument on the matter.

The security was provided because of concerns over a motorcycle gang the couple was allegedly involved in, Henning said.

"The reason for the security was to provide security for the staff at those hospitals and not to keep that patient from leaving. As far as I'm concerned when they're in that hospital, they're a patient, not a prisoner," Henning said.

St. Alexius would not comment.