Crime, Law and Justice

Otter Tail County jail license downgraded after denying food to inmate

The Minnesota Department of Corrections has placed the Otter Tail County jail’s license on conditional status after an inmate reportedly was denied food and water.

An investigation found staff at the county jail in Fergus Falls withheld six consecutive meals from an inmate over more than two days in February. It said the staff withheld the food after the inmate smeared feces in his cell and refused to clean it up.

On Feb. 15, the sheriff’s office received a maltreatment report. It hired an outside law firm to investigate and reported the complaint to the state Department of Corrections.

A couple of weeks later, the state corrections ombudsperson received a similar complaint with “additional disturbing information” that jail staff had withheld six consecutive meals from Feb. 10-12.

The state corrections department sent its own inspector to the jail to investigate and interview the inmate.

According to the department’s review, jail staff reported observing the inmate eating his own feces, but didn’t call a medical provider. Staff left feces on the cell floor for more than 44 hours and denied the inmate a daily shower, it said.

State jail regulations strictly prohibit withholding of food from inmates as punishment.

Due to the “egregiousness” of the violations, the corrections department gave the jail until March 28 to create a training plan for staff on inmates’ rights and recognizing signs of mental illness.

It also reduced the jail’s license from a Class III to a Class I facility, meaning it can hold inmates for no more than 72 hours, excluding weekends and holidays. The county must submit a plan to the state on how to reduce the jail’s capacity and re-house its current population.

In a news release, Otter Tail County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons said he sincerely regrets the incident occurred. He said his office is “dedicated to preserving the safety and security of our staff and our inmates.”

“We will work closely with the DOC to ensure the requirements outlined in their order are being implemented,” Fitzgibbons stated.

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