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Grand Forks mental health patient was attacking nurse when he was fatally punched, police say

A Grand Forks mental health patient won't be charged for causing the death of another patient after prosecutors determined he was helping a nurse being attacked in late September.

Red River Behavioral Health System
Red River Behavioral health system in Grand Forks. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

A Grand Forks mental health patient won't be charged for causing the death of another patient after prosecutors determined he was helping a nurse being attacked in late September.

Jesse Northrup, 24, was justified in using force to defend a female nurse at Red River Behavioral Health System when he struck Douglas Munro, 63, Sept. 29 in the common area of the 70-bed facility in south Grand Forks, County State's Attorney David Jones said Nov. 9 in a letter to the Grand Forks Police Department. Munro fell, hit his head on a wall and died after being punched in the back of the head by Northrup, investigators said in a 19-page Grand Forks Police report.

"In addition, we are unable to conclude that Mr. Northrup utilized excessive force in coming to the aid of the victim in this matter," Jones wrote. "Evidence reveals that the victim was crying for help and had triggered an alarm button requesting assistance."

Police responded to the incident that unfolded just after 7 p.m. Sept. 29 at 1451 44th Ave. S. but found Munro dead at the scene. Little information was released at the time because of privacy laws.

The police report said Munro was agitated and backed the nurse into a corner before Northrup hit him in the back of the head with a closed fist.

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"Unfortunately, this resulted in Munro striking his head, being rendered unconscious and ultimately resulting in his death," Jones wrote, adding there is "insufficient probable cause to proceed with a criminal prosecution in this manner."

An autopsy revealed Munro died from a blunt force trauma to the head, the police report said. The coroner told investigators the man slamming into the wall may have played a role in his injuries.

Previous incident

Northrup told police he had passed Munro in the hallway multiple times without incident before Munro confronted the nurse, according to the report. In the Sept. 29 confrontation, Munro started to swing at the nurse and hit her, the police report said. Northrup started to run toward them, Northrup said in the report.

The nurse and Munro went around the corner out of Northrup's sight, but he could hear the nurse screaming for help, the report said. When he came around the corner, the nurse was curled up in the corner with her arms up in an attempt to protect herself, Northrup said.

Munro previously approached the same nurse Sept. 28 at a nursing station to request to leave Red River Behavioral Health, according to court documents. When she said he needed to speak to a doctor, Munro physically assaulted her. Several people, including Northrup, came to the woman's aid at that time, and Northrup punched Munro during that incident but didn't knock him out, the report said.

Based on that incident, Northrup said he knew Munro could "get violent and aggressively attack people," the report said.

"Because of his prior knowledge, he did not think about grabbing Munro and his plan (was) to just punch him," the report said.

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But Northrup did not put all of his power into the punch because his intention was to end the altercation, not to knock Munro out, the report said.

"Northrup stated that he was defending (the nurse) from physical harm and also defending her honor," the report said. "(H)e doesn't tolerate men hitting women."

Jones also reviewed video footage, which is not open record due to patient privacy laws, he said.

"The video is problematical from a privacy standpoint-HIPPA and personal identifying information-and this office has no ability to edit or otherwise 'redact' the video to avoid impermissible disclosures," he wrote in an email to the Herald.

Officers reviewed the footage as well but said it was "extremely grainy" and investigators were unable to identify individuals in the footage, according to the police report.

Red River Behavioral Health provides services for patients with mental health conditions. The North Dakota Department of Health finished its investigation into a complaint filed around the time of the death, and the findings have been forwarded to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service in Denver, said Bruce Pritschet, director of health facilities at the state health department.

The department declined to say whether the complaint and death were related, but the complaint is concerning "the condition of patient rights" at the facility," health facilities program manager Bridget Weidner previously told the Herald.

The report will not be made public until the Denver office finishes its review of the findings, Pritschet confirmed.

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Susan Tabor was the interim CEO for Red River Behavioral Health at the time of Munro's death, but she no longer works there, a representative with the facility said Friday. The health care provider's website lists Mark Jackson as the CEO, but he did not immediately return a message left by the Herald.

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