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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published January 23 2014

Man with history in Bemidji area held in security hospital death

ST. PETER, Minn. – A man with a criminal history on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and in Bemidji is in jail after the death Wednesday night of a fellow state hospital patient.

Darnell Dee Whitefeather, 31, was taken to the Nicollet County Jail after Michael Douglas, 41, of Blue Earth County, died in his room of the Minnesota State Security Hospital in St. Peter, a facility that houses mentally ill patients.

Gov. Mark Dayton has asked to be kept up to date on the investigation. The state hospital has been the target of continuing criticism in the past couple of years over incidents such as allowing a patient to continually ram his head into a wall.

“In addition to the investigation of local law enforcement, death reviews will be conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities and a Root Cause Analysis will be required ...” Deputy Human Services Commissioner Anne Barry said. “We will cooperate fully with any and all reviews into the death of the patient served by Security Hospital.”

Barry also said her department is “reaching out to the family and to other patients and employees affected by this tragedy.”

Few details of the incident were available immediately.

Whitefeather, whose address was listed as Minneapolis but who has a long history in the Bemidji area and on the nearby Red Lake Reservation, was arrested last year on burglary charges in Bemidji. The criminal complaint filed by the Beltrami County Attorney’s Office indicated Whitefeather admitted to burglarizing a coffee shop, a crime that carries up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

He also was questioned about another burglary at about the same time.

Whitefeather has a criminal history that includes a 2002 conviction for assault and robbery. He was sentenced to prison for that crime, and was released in 2009. He violated probation, authorities said, and once escaped from a federal correctional facility, a crime to which he eventually pleaded guilty.

Whitefeather also was convicted and placed on probation for assaulting the director of the Bemidji Community Behavioral Health Hospital, where he had been taken due to “suspected mental illness,” the complaint stated.

Douglas arrived at the St. Peter hospital last month for a mental evaluation. He had been convicted for a 1992 murder in Mankato. His sentence was due to end in 2018.

A report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor last year indicated that the St. Peter hospital was understaffed and mismanaged, with frequent personnel and rules changes making treatment difficult. It also said there were many cases in which patients did not get the help they needed: “Many Security Hospital patients receive a modest amount of mental health therapy.”

State officials say they are making progress to improve the hospital.