FARGO — It's widely known that Fargo police have investigated two homicides so far this year: the January murder-suicide of an elderly couple and the fatal shooting of a food truck owner this month.
But it turns out police investigated a third death as a homicide in March. The death came after an altercation between two patients at a memory care facility that went unreported to the public for almost three months.
Forum News Service first caught wind of the investigation from Chief David Todd during an interview Wednesday, June 19, to discuss the city's violent crime rates. Through public records requests, Forum News Service obtained police reports from the case, as well as surveillance video of the altercation, which the newspaper received Monday, June 24.
The altercation happened on March 29 at Maple View Memory Care, 4552 36th Ave. S.
Police reports say a patient at the facility, 84-year-old Donard Thue Jr., grabbed and pushed another patient, 70-year-old Michael Lyman. Lyman punched Thue in the head before Thue fell to the ground, and Lyman then kicked Thue in the head, according to the reports.
Thue died April 3 at a hospice facility. His cause of death was a subdural hemorrhage, a head injury that results in bleeding outside the brain, according to police reports.
After reviewing the police investigation, the Cass County State's Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges against Lyman, a former law enforcement officer, saying that he "had no culpable state of mind."
“Although Lyman apparently struck Thue and Thue fell and later died, criminal charges are not supported,” stated a May 17 letter from the state's attorney's office.
Medical examiners did not reach a conclusion on whether Thue's death was a homicide, instead they listed his manner of death as "undetermined," according to the letter.
Fargo police often send out a news release when investigating a homicide. But in this case, authorities did not alert media outlets to Thue's death.
When asked why, Fargo police spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker said the incident was initially reported as an unattended death. “We don’t notify the public of all unattended death cases, and there was no concern for public safety to release such a statement,” she wrote in an email.
Todd was unavailable for a follow-up interview.
Surveillance video shows some events surrounding the March 29 altercation between Thue and Lyman, including Thue grabbing and pushing Lyman before Lyman punched Thue in a hallway. Lyman also pushed Thue before Thue fell, the video shows.
Maple View staff were not present at the time and apparently did not see the confrontation until they heard a crash after Thue fell, according to police reports. As employees ran toward the two patients, they saw Lyman kick Thue in the head, the reports said.
Staff checked on Thue and determined he was all right, according to the reports. It doesn’t appear the fight was reported to police.
Thue went to bed and was found unresponsive the next day. He was taken to Essentia Health, where doctors determined he was not treatable. He was then transferred to a hospice facility, where he died, the reports said.
Both men suffered from cognitive issues, according to police reports. Lyman had been placed on 24/7 monitoring March 26-29 to “allow for new meds to ‘kick in,’” according to the letter from the state's attorney's office.
“Well before the altercation, documents show that he had severe impairment with his cognitive functioning, requiring a constant orientation program,” the letter said. “And at the time of the altercation, Lyman’s new medication may have exacerbated the situation."
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“Under the circumstances, Lyman could not have a culpable state of mind,” according to the letter, which noted that Thue also would not have had a culpable state of mind.
Police reports indicate Lyman and Thue had a history of not getting along and acting aggressively toward each other. Management knew about previous confrontations between the two men, the reports show.
The week of Thue’s death, Lyman allegedly hit Thue and a female patient, the reports said. Other reports indicate Thue was aggressive with other patients.
A staff member told police that 24/7 monitoring, which Lyman had been placed under at the time of the altercation, meant Maple View would “call extra staff to keep an eye on the patient 24/7,” police reports said.
The staff member who was supposed to watch Lyman said he was tucked into bed, with staff thinking he had gone to sleep before the fight, the reports said.
Staff were sitting at a table in the hallway leading to Lyman’s room, but the person supposed to be watching him could not see down the hallway, the reports said.
Health department oversight
Police learned of Thue’s death after being contacted by a coroner, who had heard from a funeral home representative about what transpired at the memory care facility.
The funeral home handling Thue’s body said family told funeral home staff about the fight, prompting it to contact the coroner because it “knew hospice does not always contact the coroner’s office at death,” police reports said.
North Dakota does not require facilities like Maple View to report altercations to the state Health Department, though facilities must have a policy on procedures to follow in the event of a confrontation, said Bruce Pritschet, health facilities division director for the Health Department. That could include a policy that tells staff to contact the state agency, he said.
He said his division did not know about the altercation or the death until Forum News Service brought it to his attention.
The Health Department can visit health care facilities whenever it needs to for an inspection, and it tries to visit facilities like Maple View every three years, Pritschet said. The health facilities division completed its last survey of Maple View in June 2016.
That inspection revealed the facility failed to conduct monthly fire drills that included the activation of fire alarm systems, the kitchen did not properly label food packaging and failed to provide snacks between meals. These issues were all corrected, according to a follow-up report.
Maple View management in Fargo declined to comment for this story, but passed Forum New Service contact information to the facility’s owners. Forum News Service, however, did not hear from the owners.
A member of Lyman's family declined to comment for this article. Thue's family did not return messages left by Forum News Service.