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Civil commitment sought for rest stop stabbing suspect

Harmit Bhangu

A Canadian man accused of nearly stabbing another man to death at a Moorhead rest stop could spend the rest of his life in a psychiatric hospital.

Clay County Social Services has filed a petition to civilly commit Harmit Bhangu stating that the 32-year-old is mentally ill and poses a risk of "serious, imminent, physical harm" to himself and others if he is not held in a treatment facility.

Bhangu is charged with second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon for the Jan. 11 incident, which he told police happened after God ordered him to kill 51-year-old Dale Morigeau, court documents state. Morigeau, a Montana truck driver, was stabbed eight to 10 times, including once near his heart, at the Interstate 94 rest stop near Moorhead.

Why the civil commitment has been asked for has not been made public. A roughly 15-minute hearing regarding the case was closed to the public Tuesday at the request of Bhangu's attorney, Shawn Schmidt.

The civil case was filed about a week after the criminal charges were filed.

In the criminal case, a judge has ordered Bhangu to undergo a psychological exam. The results of the exam could impact the county's civil commitment proceedings against him, said Jenny Samarzja, assistant Clay County attorney.

"If that would come back showing that he's mentally deficient in the criminal case, that would only bolster the civil commitment case and provide more evidence that he is someone that is in need of civil commitment," she said.

The civil commitment filing seeks to commit Bhangu for an indeterminate period of time, which means he could remain hospitalized for life, although a judge would routinely review the case, Samarzja said.

The next step in the civil commitment process is a hearing, a date for which has not yet been set. Schmidt could also seek to close that hearing to the public, but said Tuesday it was "too early to tell" if he would do that.

Bhangu is being held at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, Minn., which is a maximum-security psychiatric hospital that serves people who have been committed by the court as mentally ill and dangerous.