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Minnesota Counties Pay Out More Than $10 Million For Prison and Jail Settlements

One of the major cases discussed in the story was of Todd County settling with the family of Brett Huber, Jr. for a total of $1.8 million in December 2018 after Huber, Jr. hanged himself in the county jail in June of the prior year. Brett, Jr. had a history of drug abuse and mental health issues that the suit claimed the jail failed to treat.

Brett Huber Sr. said his son was a gifted child growing up in Spearfish, South Dakota. He breezed through school with a straight A average, volunteered his services to nonprofit organizations and was active in the church. He was tall, muscular and athletic. A varsity wrestler and a certified master scuba diver. Brett, Jr. had one serious problem: an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Brett, Jr. had a job working at the state Senate. His father believed he turned to drugs as a way to fit in. He was battling with his addiction in March 2017 when he left his job at the Senate with the intent of committing himself to rehab.

Before he made it to the treatment center, Brett, Jr. went on a last bender. A police report said that Brett, Jr. showed up at an Alexandria hospital high on drugs. Before the hospital was able to get him to detox, Brett, Jr. ran out and stole a car, driving it into a pond. He then stole a second car, which he crashed on I-94. Social media video ultimately showed Brett, Jr. on top of a semi with his shirt off, howling at traffic.

Police arrested Brett, Jr. and took him to the Todd County jail. Brett, Jr. spent several weeks in the jail showing signs of instability and possible suicide before he was finally taken to CentraCare Health Clinic where he was diagnosed with a “severe episode of recurrent major depressive disorder, with psychotic features.” He was placed on antipsychotic medication and referred for a full mental evaluation.

Brett, Sr. said he visited his son regularly. Some days he appeared sane and rational and other times he seemed wild-eyed and cried through the entire visit. Concerned for his son’s health, Brett, Sr. stayed in constant contact with jail administrator Scott Wright. Wright continued to assure Brett, Sr. that his son was okay and well cared for. It was not until after Brett, Jr.’s death that the Huber family found out that Brett, Jr. was disorderly, attempted suicide on several occasions and suffered episodes of hallucinations and paranoia.

A records request as part of the lawsuit’s discovery process filed by the family’s attorney, Andy Noel, revealed Brett, Jr.’s battle with his mental health while at the county jail. It also revealed the jail’s history of problems dealing with detainees with mental health issues. The state had been previously cited for falsifying logs, failing to conduct regular well-being checks, understaffing and inadequate suicide prevention training.

The Hubers found that the security logs were falsified three times on the day Brett, Jr. hung himself, including one at the time when Brett, Jr. was already successful in strangulating himself. “I was led to believe he was in a good facility, that he was being monitored, that they were doing their job, that he wasn’t having any issues, and that the court evaluation would begin soon,” said Brett, Sr. He had the ability to make his son’s bond, but thought it best to leave Brett, Jr. in the county jail, believing it was the safest thing for his son until he could receive the treatment he needed.

Brett, Jr. is not the only person to receive inadequate care while in custody in Minnesota. Fifteen lawsuits have been filed against county jails and prisons around the state since 2015. The state’s suicide rate accounts for 60% of the deaths in custody annually, twice the national average. “It tells me, as a whole, we need to do a whole lot better at assessing suicidal ideation and risk, and then aggressively taking action to make sure we are providing the level of care and oversight and intervention necessary to prevent suicidal actions,” said Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell. (See: Huber, Sr. v. Todd County, Case No. 0:18-cv-02317, U.S.D.C. (D. Minn.). 


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Related legal case

Huber, Sr. v. Todd County