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Grand Forks County jail meets standards after noncompliance order

A video visitation station sits empty in a general population jail pod on Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at the Grand Forks County Jail in Grand Forks, ND. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

The Grand Forks jail has passed several state inspections since it was given an order of noncompliance following the death of an inmate last year.

The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, however, still says the facility is on probation for another six months.

A DOCR inspector who visited the Grand Forks County Correctional Center June 13 said the facility was compliant with all state standards, according to a July 2 report. The jail has been inspected several times and has been called compliant for each check since a noncompliance order was issued July 31, 2017.

That order was the result of an investigation into the April 2017 death of 45-year-old inmate Nathan Benedict Dogskin, who was admitted to the jail after failing to register as a sex offender. Several days after being booked into the jail, he was found unresponsive in his cell.

He was taken on April 21 to Altru Hospital, where he died less 24 hours later.

An inspection that followed in May 2017 found the jail was not compliant with nine state standards and needed to update four policies.

Jail Administrator Bret Burkholder disputed multiple findings of the inspection, though he said he could not comment further on that.

"We were virtually at 100 percent when they issued the order," he said. "The things that were listed for the most part had already been taken care of."

He noted the order's reference to updating a policy that described "hog-tying," a restraint method that correctional officers are prohibited from using on inmates to prevent self-harm.

Before the most recent update, the policy said jail staff should "avoid placing a subject in a position that is likely to contribute to asphyxia. In particular, restraint of an inmate in a hog-tied position should be avoided."

The policy has since been changed to not include the word "hog-tied," Burkholder said.

The state inspector returned this week to the jail since another inmate died. About an hour after he was booked into the jail, Samuel James Nelson, 36, was taken to Altru Hospital, where he died.

The cause of death is under investigation. Nelson died after he barricaded himself in a Grand Forks apartment complex in the 1100 block of 14th Avenue South. He was in an attic crawl space during the standoff with police, which lasted five hours.

He was checked by medical staff before being sent to the jail.

The 2017 order put the jail under an 18-month probation period, which is typical for any noncompliance status, DOCR spokeswoman Michelle Linster wrote in an email.

"Facilities can be in noncompliance with just certain standards, it does not necessarily mean that an entire facility is considered noncompliant," she wrote. "The DOCR strives to work with and assist the facilities to obtain full compliance."

Noncompliance orders are rare, but the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center in Devils Lake and the Barnes County Correctional Facility in Valley City, N.D., are under similar orders as Grand Forks, she said.

"It does not always take a facility a full 18 months to gain full compliance, but the DOCR will continue monitoring for the remaining period to assure compliance," she wrote.

The Grand Forks jail and DOCR have a "positive working relationship," Linster said, adding correctional officers have been "adaptive and cooperative throughout" the inspections.

Burkholder said he is happy to welcome inspections whenever the DOCR wants to see his jail. He said his staff goes through extensive training to make sure the jail is operating in a safe manner, and he shares his policies with others in the state, calling the polices some of the better ones in the state.

"We have some very professional people here that I would put up against virtually everyone and anyone," he said.

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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