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Man being held in Minnesota Security Hospital accused of killing fellow resident

A mentally ill man being held at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter is accused of killing another resident and has been arrested, an act that has top state officials moving quickly to determine what happened, authorities said Thursday.

A mentally ill man being held at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter is accused of killing another resident and has been arrested, an act that has top state officials moving quickly to determine what happened, authorities said Thursday.

The killing of convicted murderer Michael F. Douglas, 41, of Mankato, occurred Wednesday night, and Darnell D. Whitefeather, 31, was being held in the Nicollet County jail on probable cause murder, according to the St. Peter Police Department.

In confirming the killing, state Department of Human Services Deputy Commissioner Anne Berry said in a statement that she and her agency's employees are "doing everything we can to assist" investigators.

Douglas had his skull crushed in his room, a source with direct knowledge of events told the Star Tribune. St. Peter police officers were called to the hospital, and paramedics tried in vain to revive Douglas, according to police.

Douglas had been brought to St. Peter in mid-December and was awaiting a thorough mental evaluation, the sources added. Whitefeather was committed to the Security Hospital on Oct. 18, according to court records.

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The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) immediately began investigating the death at the hospital, where more than 300 of the Minnesota's most dangerous and mentally ill patients are housed. The state Health Department and the ombudsman for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled will also be involved.

Whitefeather, who has yet to be charged, lived at one time in Bemidji, and has a violent criminal history spanning many years, according to court records.

This is believed to be the first homicide in the hospital in at least 30 years, according to longtime employees.

Douglas was found bloodied and unconscious in his room shortly before 6:30 p.m. by a security counselor making hourly rounds, according to a source with direct knowledge of the events. The counselor told authorities he heard nothing unusual that would have prompted him to intervene sooner.

Hospital medical staff rushed to his room in the 800 Unit, where the center's most dangerous patients reside, and were unable to revive him.

Security counselors soon found that Whitefish had tried to clean his bloodied clothes in a washer on the unit and was locked in his room while staff waited for police, the source said. BCA agents took Whitefish's wet clothing as evidence.

The source said that a week earlier Whitefish had tried to kill a resident while housed in the Competency Restoration Program, a unit where less volatile patients are treated. Whitefish was kept in seclusion for several hours and then moved to the 800 Unit.

Whitefeather admitted in federal court in 2001 to kicking in the door of a home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and bashing a man in the head with a metal pipe, leaving him unconscious. He also hit another man in the house with the pipe, court records show.

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In a separate case, Whitefeather also admitted to robbing two Red Lake Band members of their pickup truck at knife point in February 2001, according to court records.

In January 2013, he assaulted the director of the Bemidji Community Behavioral Health Hospital. He was convicted and put on probation. Then in July, Whitefeather was charged with breaking into a Bemidji coffee shop and stealing a register with cash in it.

Douglas was convicted of second-degree murder in 1992 in Mankato. Douglas, who was 19 at the time, and another teenager entered a mobile home plotting to steal the resident's car and money and head to Arizona.

When the resident, 35-year-old Keith Pearson awoke, Douglas and accomplice Dustin Bodin tied him up with electrical cords and inflicted several fatal blows to his head with a ball peen hammer.

Douglas' sentence was set to expire in October 2018.

In the past two years, patient-security issues have pitted staff against administrators who have tried to find a balance between a lockdown mentality and greater freedom for patients to interact with each other. Previously, patients were not allowed to go into the rooms of other patients, a rule intended to prevent assaults.

Roberta Opheim, the state ombudsman for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, said hospital administrators will surely be asked to show what risk-assessment plans were in place to protect Whitefish from harming himself or others.

"Every patient admitted has to have a risk-assessment plan," she said. "If he has had a previous incident (the assault a week earlier), the hospital will have to say whether they readjusted his risk plan or not. We have no knowledge yet whether they did this or not."

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In recent months, security counselors have been pressing administrators to create a "crisis admissions unit" that would hold newly admitted, extremely violent patients until they are stabilized.

Related Topics: CRIME
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