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Mentally ill inmate sues Beltrami County

A mentally ill man who was allegedly beaten by fellow inmates in Beltrami County jail and then furloughed so the county wouldn't have to pay medical expenses filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday.

Theran Stai, 46, filed claims at the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis against both Beltrami County as a whole and individual county staff, including jail administrators and Sheriff Phil Hodapp. Stai is seeking damages in excess of $1 million, according to court documents.

The lawsuit claims "the deliberate and inhumane indifference of jail officials ... to the obvious and serious medical and mental health needs" of Stai resulted in the injuries he sustained in the beating, as well as the violation of his civil rights.

Stai has received a range of diagnoses for serious mental illness, including antisocial personality disorder, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression, the suit said. In September 2012, Stai was committed as mentally ill in Washington County, then transferred to Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. From there, he was discharged in December 2012 to Odayin House in Bemidji. Odayin House reports said Stai would engage in unusual behavior, including statements that he had seen a UFO and wanted to build one, and that drinking helped him better understand religion.

Stai had also been in the Beltrami County Jail "on a number of occasions" from 1989 to 2013, so the staff there should have known about his mental illness, it said. However, after Stai was brought in on a needle possession charge in the summer of 2013, staff placed him in the jail's general population and on Sept. 10, 2013 inmates fractured Stai's jaw multiple times, the complaint said.

According to prior Bemidji Pioneer news reports, Stai gave contradictory explanations to authorities on how he got the broken jaw, initially saying he fell and later, that someone assaulted him. Video surveillance footage is not available for the area where Stai was when the injury occurred. Because of the severity of Stai's injury, the sheriff 's office requested the Bemidji Police Department investigate the incident. Twelve inmates housed in D block were interviewed. Ten indicated they did not know how Stai became injured, one inmate declined to comment and another asked for an attorney.

"During questioning by officers and officials, a number of inmates stated that (Stai) was bizarre and he often annoyed other inmates," the lawsuit said.

Judge John Melbye of Ninth District Court then furloughed Stai via phone, and told fellow Judge Paul T. Benshoof the furlough was so that Beltrami County would not have to pay Stai's medical bills, the lawsuit said.

After being transported to Hennepin County Medical Center, Stai underwent reconstructive surgery for his jaw. Stai's medical bills totaled more than $44,000, the lawsuit said.

"None of (Stai's) beating-related medical billings have been paid by the defendants," it said.

To the Northland.... on foot

The county made no arrangements for Stai's housing or transport back to Bemidji, the lawsuit said. He attempted to walk 188 miles to Walker over six days, sleeping in "empty cargo trailers and shelters he made out of cardboard, grass and leaves."

"By the time he made it to Walker, his feet were so badly blistered that he had lost several toenails," the lawsuit said.

After getting a ride from Walker to Bemidji from a friend, Stai stayed in a tent for a month. Without adequate care, his jaw began to deteriorate, and on Oct. 13, after undergoing "weeks of pain", he went into the Sanford Health emergency room.

"Medical records from Sanford Medical Center document that (Stai) had a fractured mandible, which was infected," the lawsuit said. "(He) smelled of alcohol, which he stated 'he drank to take the pain away.'"

Stai was transferred to the Bemidji Community Behavioral Health Hospital later that month, and then back to the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center.

Lawsuit could take more than a year

There are four counts in the lawsuit: One alleging violations of Stai's civil rights through defendants' failure to protect him, a count of alleged negligence, a count of alleged failure to train on the part of Beltrami County and an allegation of a "Monell" violation, or a pattern of civil rights violations on the part of Beltrami County.

Attorney Jon Iverson of the Bloomington-based law firm Iverson Reuvers Condon will represent the defendants in the case. Iverson's services were furnished to the county by the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, which is the insurance pool for many of the counties in Minnesota.

Iverson said Wednesday he'll likely file a motion to dismiss claims.

"The (Ninth District) Court is the one that authorized the furlough," he said. "Obviously, anything that happened after (Stai) was down in Hennepin County is not (Beltrami) County's responsibility."

Hodapp declined to directly comment on the case except to say he was "confident that when all the facts are before the court, that the case will be dismissed."

The case is at an early stage -- Iverson said as of early Wednesday the county had yet to be served with a summons. It may be 2016 before a trial occurs, Iverson said.

Stai's attorney, William L.H. Lubov of Golden Valley-based Lubov & Associates, was out of  office Wednesday and did not immediately return a request for comment

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