Prisoner's death exposes security flaws; settlement deal in works with state

December 09, 2018 10:38 PM

A federal judge in St. Paul listened Friday to how a $300,000 settlement would be disbursed from the Minnesota Department of Corrections to the family of an inmate who died at the Oak Park Heights prison.

A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation back in 2016 revealed internal DOC documents that showed some correction officers made false entries into prison log books that indicated they’d performed their rounds when, in fact, they didn’t do their job.

Those significant security breaches led to the November 2015 death of an inmate, William St. John, who had warned prison staff that he was going to kill himself, according to interviews and internal investigative documents obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

RELATED: Prison death triggers security investigation across Minnesota

"It brings a lot of closure to me and my family," said St. John’s son, Tony Philbrick, outside federal court about the settlement. “I know they did some bad. In the end of the day, as human beings we're all supposed to feel protected."

Surrounded with razor wire, built deep into the ground, the Oak Park Heights facility is a menacing place, housing almost 450 of the state's most violent criminals.

After the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation aired, St. John's family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Minnesota DOC, officers and a therapist for not watching him after his latest suicide note.


The suit also claimed that mental health staff received St. John's suicide note the day before his suicide but "deliberately disregarded the threat and did not take it seriously."

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the Department of Corrections on Friday and again Sunday for comment about the settlement, but at last check, had yet to hear back.

"He was a father, a brother, a grandfather, an uncle, a friend, but most importantly he was a human being," said St. John’s brother, Jeffery LaCroix. "We hope because of his death laws are being changed within the prison system from this happening to other inmates, so other families won't have to suffer as we did."

St. John’s death triggered a security investigation by the Department of Corrections at all Minnesota prisons.

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Eric Chaloux

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