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St. Louis County won't use Superior jail after inmate beating, other issues

The beating of a Cloquet man jailed for child sex assault was a factor in St. Louis County's recent decision to stop housing detainees in the Douglas County Jail.

The beating of a Cloquet man jailed for child sex assault was a factor in St. Louis County's recent decision to stop housing detainees in the Douglas County Jail.

According to jail records, David Richard Lovshin was assaulted March 7 by Duluth murder suspect Stephen Cobenais in the Superior jail. Lovshin, 36, later pleaded guilty to assault and criminal sexual conduct involving two girls and was sentenced Tuesday to more than seven years in prison.

The jail assault left Lovshin with a swollen eye and a cut on the top of his head. He was transported to a hospital by ambulance, the jail report said.

"Not long after that we decided -- at least for a period of time -- to stop utilizing the Douglas County Jail," St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said. "To say it was because of the Cobenais assault on Lovshin would not be fair. It was a factor. There were a bunch of different factors."

Northeastern Minnesota's Chief Public Defender Fred Friedman said he's had safety concerns for his employees when in recent years two women employees were accidentally locked in the Douglas County Jail while they were talking with clients. Formal complaints were filed with the jail and apologies were received, Friedman said.

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Litman said there have been "operational and communications problems" between his jail staff and Douglas County jail staff. He said some of the problems involve inmate detention data that is not public information and he couldn't elaborate.

"Until I have assurances from the Douglas County sheriff and his jail staff that we are able to resolve some of these operational issues that we've encountered over the last several years, we're not going to utilize the Douglas County Jail," Litman said Thursday.

Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec didn't return a recorded phone message seeking comment.

St. Louis County paid Douglas County $255,000 last year to house its detainees when the St. Louis County Jail was full, Litman said.

Cobenais, 26, remains in custody. He is accused in the West Duluth shooting death of Mario Highler, 31, on Aug. 26, 2009, an incident that led to a five-hour armed standoff with Duluth police in the East Hillside. A trial date has not yet been set.

At Lovshin's sentencing, Friedman asked the court to request that the Department of Corrections house Lovshin and Cobenais in separate prisons if Cobenais is found guilty of the crime he is charged with.

Cobenais has not yet been charged in the alleged jailhouse beating of Lovshin.

Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank said Thursday that his office has a huge caseload and an assistant district attorney will be reviewing the alleged assault for possible charges within the next week.

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Meanwhile, Dalbec and his Douglas County Jail staff are trying to get the St. Louis County business back. They came to Duluth last week to meet with Litman, Undersheriff Dave Phillips and Jail Administrator Robyn Wojciechowski.

"When the Douglas County sheriff takes the time to come over here and meet with me and tries to gain our business and our trust back, that sends a pretty loud message to me," Litman said. "I'm confident we're going to be able to resolve this and in the future use Douglas County to house our inmates."

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