BISMARCK — The mother of a 26-year-old Minot man who died after reportedly experiencing drug withdrawals at the Ward County Jail has brought a lawsuit against local law enforcement officials, alleging that their deliberate indifference to her son’s serious medical needs led to his death.
Oscar Wilkie III died at a Minot hospital in January 2018 days after being found unresponsive in his jail cell. In her lawsuit filed Monday, Jan. 13, in U.S. District Court in North Dakota, Dawn Wilkie also alleges authorities violated her son’s civil rights by not providing adequate medical attention and failing to monitor his condition as he came off of heroin.
The litigation comes two years after state corrections officials found there was no need for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to look into Wilkie’s death. His family said in spring 2019 that it was in the process of filing a lawsuit, but declined to provide specific details at the time.
The city of Minot, its police department and police officers Charles Shane Johnson and Todd Haman are named as defendants in the complaint, as well as Ward County, Sheriff Robert Barnard, his sheriff’s department and Ward County Jail staff. The police department and sheriff's office couldn't immediately be reached for comment Monday night.
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According to the complaint, on Jan. 4, 2018, Officer Johnson, who had several prior contacts with Wilkie, arrived at Wilkie’s mother’s home to arrest him on a warrant. Wilkie had allegedly violated the terms of his bond for a March 2017 drug paraphernalia charge.
Dawn Wilkie gave Johnson permission to enter her home and make the arrest. According to the lawsuit, she informed the officer that her son had been using methamphetamine, opiates and opioids, and would require medical attention if he was taken into custody as he would experience withdrawal from the drugs.
Officers then entered the home, arrested Wilkie and brought him to the Ward County Jail, where, according to the complaint, a drug test found opiates and stimulants in his system. When Johnson reached out to Wilkie’s mother shortly after the arrest to inform her that her son was in custody, Wilkie’s mother again told the officer that her son could experience withdrawal symptoms and would need to be monitored.
One day later, Oscar Wilkie called his mother and told her that he had started to sweat heavily, had diarrhea and was vomiting, the complaint said. All are symptoms of opiate withdrawal. He also stopped leaving his cell for meals and was vomiting blood, which continued until he was found unresponsive in his cell on Jan. 7, according to the complaint.
Wilkie was given naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, and staff then tried to revive him using a defibrillator. He was then brought by ambulance to Trinity Hospital in Minot, where he remained until dying on Jan. 10. An autopsy found he died of cardiac arrhythmia with chronic drug abuse as a contributing cause. Examiners also found evidence of amphetamines and opiates in his system.
The suit brought by Wilkie’s mother demands an amount greater than $150,000 in compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages and any other further relief deemed appropriate by the court.
Wilkie’s father, 52-year-old Oscar Wilkie Jr., died of a methamphetamine overdose at the Rolette County Jail in April 2018.
State officials did not issue discipline or policy changes in either Wilkie Jr. or Wilkie III's death. The Ward County Jail was under state supervision until 2017 after the 2014 death of Dustin Irwin, an inmate who died after repeatedly asking for medical assistance for vomiting and diarrhea.