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Inmate death leads to lawsuit

Lawsuit alleges law enforcement negligence

A Minot woman is suing the City of Minot and Ward County under the federal Civil Rights Act in connection with the 2018 drug-related death of her son, who had been incarcerated in the Ward County Jail.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Monday by Dawn Wilkie lists the city and county as defendants, along with Minot police officers Charles Johnson and Todd Haman, former sheriff Robert Barnard, jail sergeant FNU Owens and jail captain Paul Olthoff.

Wilkie is seeking $150,000 plus punitive damages and court costs for actions of the law enforcement agencies that she alleges led to the death of her son, Oscar Wilkie III, 26. The death had not triggered a state investigation. The North Dakota Department of Corrections examined the preliminary report and only requested the Ward County Sheriff’s Office to conduct an internal review, which it completed.

Oscar Wilkie had been arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia on March 30, 2017. According to background in the complaint, it was Wilkie’s fifth drug-related arrest since developing heroin addiction after being prescribed opioid pain medication for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle/bicycle crash. He was alleged to have violated bond conditions, resulting in a bench warrant being issued for his arrest Oct. 30, 2017.

On Jan. 4, 2018, Officer Johnson came to Dawn Wilkie’s home to locate Oscar Wilkie. Dawn Wilkie informed him that her son had been using methamphetamines and opioids and, if arrested, would go through withdrawal of those drugs so needed medical attention and monitoring, the complaint stated. With Dawn Wilkie’s permission, Johnson and two other officers entered the home and took Oscar Wilkie into custody.

A drug screen performed at the jail was positive for stimulant and opiate drugs. Johnson contacted Dawn Wilkie to inform her of the arrest, and again she reminded him of the risk of withdrawal symptoms and the need for medical attention and monitoring.

The next day, Oscar Wilkie contacted his mother and told her he was sweating heavily and experiencing severe diarrhea and vomiting, which are symptoms of withdrawal. He declined to leave his cell or pod for meals and began to spit up blood, according to the complaint. He continued in this condition until Jan. 7, when he was found unresponsive by his cellmate, who notified jail staff.

Jail staff attempted to revive Wilkie while waiting for emergency medical services. He was administered Narcan, CPR and defibrillator treatment.

Wilkie was transported to Trinity Hospital, where he remained until his death Jan. 10. An autopsy listed the cause of death as primary fatal cardiac arrhythmia with chronic drug abuse as a contributing factor. Postmorten toxicology identified the presence of methamphetamine, amphetamines, opiates and morphine.

The complaint alleges the defendants failed to ensure that Wilkie was properly examined by a physician during his incarceration in the jail. It states defendants failed to properly monitor the presence of contraband by Wilkie, failed to house him in a cell that prevented the passing of contraband substances and failed to monitor the cell to prevent passing of contraband substances.

The complaint states Wilkie was “provided with opiates, morphine, methampetamine, amphetamines, and/or other drugs, and ingested the same within the Ward County Jail/Detention Center, resulting in serious physical injury, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and death.”

The complaint also states jail staff showed deliberate indifference to Wilkie’s medical needs, allowing his physical condition to deteriorate. It stated defendants had a known pattern of failing to monitor individual cells and cell blocks in which inmates were undergoing drug withdrawal or to monitor for contraband. It alleges negligence by the city and county.

Neither the City Attorney’s Office nor county State’s Attorney’s Office responded to requests for comment as of Wednesday evening.

Represented by the Reichert Armstrong Law Office in Grand Forks, Wilkie is asking for a jury trial.

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