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Devils Lake inmate suicide to be probed by North Dakota Department of Corrections

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DEVILS LAKE—An inmate death at a Devils Lake jail has prompted an administrative investigation by the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The DOCR is preparing a trip to the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center to investigate the death of 57-year-old David James Grove, said James Sayler, DORC warden for transitional facilities.

"Anytime there is an unattended death at a jail, we do investigate," Sayler said.

Grove died Sept. 2 from self-inflicted wounds, LEC Director Rob Johnson confirmed to the Herald. He was at the jail for about three days on child pornography charges when he died.

The Devils Lake Police Department is investigating the death.

It's the first time an inmate has died by suicide since May 16, 2015, when John Wilkie Jr., 42, was found dead in a jail cell just six hours after being booked into the facility. No criminal charges were filed after the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation ruled the death a suicide.

The jail has faced a number of problems over the years, including escaped prisoners; a lawsuit from a former employee claiming she was fired because of gender discrimination; and a threat of closure from the state. That threat came in the form of a noncompliance order alleging the jail conducted group strip searches, staff were undertrained and policy either was not up-to-date or nonexistent. That included the jail not being able to provide a copy of a suicide prevention plan.

The order that was issued Sept. 1, 2017, placed the jail under notice for a minimum of 12 months, but it hasn't been lifted, Sayler said.

"There's no established date" to end the noncompliance order, he said.

The DOCR inspects North Dakota jails annually, but the checks become more frequent when a facility is under an order of noncompliance, Sayler said. Johnson previously told the Herald he and his staff were working to update policy and properly train staff, though he denied corrections officers were conducting group strip searches.

Johnson wrote in an email that he would not release further information on the investigation into Grove's death until it is completed. He did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment for this story, though he said in previous stories he is confident the jail would not close because of the order.

The LEC houses inmates for Ramsey, Benson, Towner, Eddy and Nelson counties. Ramsey County Commission Chair Adam Leiphon said he feels the jail is working hard to improve conditions at the jail.

"Obviously, it's unfortunate that we have a situation like this again, and I feel for the family of the individual," Leiphon said. "We don't obviously want that to ever occur."

Sayler said jails may struggle to meet standards that require upgrades to facilities—the ones that require a financial investment. But for the most part, correctional leaders are open to orders calling for compliance, he said.

The LEC also has been receptive to inspections, he added. Despite the death, Leiphon said the jail is making progress to become a facility communities can be proud of.

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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