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Family of man who died in Devils Lake jail to file suit

DEVILS LAKE -- The family of a man who died while being held at a jail in Devils Lake intends to seek damages from the facility after his death was ruled a suicide and did not warrant criminal charges.

The Lake Region Law Enforcement Center received a notice from the family of John W. Wilkie Jr., 42, who was found dead May 16, 2015, in a jail cell six hours after he was booked.

Records show Wilkie was booked into the Lake Region jail for detoxification about 12:30 a.m. after Devils Lake police were dispatched to his home for a report of a suicidal subject. His death, which occurred sometime before 6:27 a.m. when an officer discovered his body, was attributed to suicide by consuming a mixture of medications.

The investigation was turned over to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, but investigators determined Wilkie’s death was the result of suicide. Ramsey County State’s Attorney Lonnie Olson said no charges would be filed and the case has been considered closed.

Family members contend authorities were told Wilkie was suicidal and questioned why he wasn’t taken to the hospital instead of the jail. No lawsuits had been filed in North Dakota courts as of Friday, but Wilkie’s family recently sent a notice of intent to seek damages to the law enforcement center.

A request to review the notice was not answered by Friday.

Suicide attempt

Devils Lake police responded at 12:05 a.m. May 16, 2015, to Wilkie’s home, where officers found he was cutting himself and was intoxicated, according to a police report. Though police were able to enter his home, they had to kick in the door to Wilkie’s bedroom, where he was lying on his bed.

Wilkie told police he had drunk about 12 beers, though the reports did not indicate in what time period the drinking had occurred.  

Police were never aware that he had consumed a mixture of medications, Olson wrote in an email. Wilkie previously had attempted to kill himself, and police were told he was suicidal. Officers noted in reports he had written a suicide letter, and Wilkie said he was “fed up with things.” While he had attempted to get help, he said he couldn’t afford to pay for it, according to the report.

Wilkie told officers his wounds were superficial and he did not need medical treatment, according to the report. He then was taken to the jail for detox.

Length between checks

Wilkie was brought into the jail about 12:30 a.m. There are reports of Wilkie falling to the ground while in custody, but he was given special garments to prevent a suicide attempt and was placed in his cell about 12:53 a.m.

Another report said there was no surveillance video between 12:53 a.m. and 6:21 a.m., when an officer discovered Wilkie’s body, because the cameras are motion-activated.

The reports state Wilkie was put on close watch, meaning he was to be checked on every 30 minutes, but other interviews indicate he should have been checked on every 15 to 20 minutes.

A check sheet shows the length between Wilkie’s checks varied, with the first check at 1:15 a.m. Checks ranged from every 15 to 42 minutes.

One guard noted Wilkie was sleeping on his stomach at 5:42 a.m., a position that had reportedly held since 3:55 a.m. The checks since 3:15 a.m. were conducted every 35 to 42 minutes until another officer wrote she had noticed Wilkie was not breathing at 6:27 a.m.

Former LEC Administrator Tom Rime previously said normally they would have had three correction officers and a sergeant on duty during the shift, but one guard called in sick, leaving three staff members on duty to conduct the checks.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises 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 a 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.

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