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KARE 11 Investigates: Jail death results in $2.3 million payout

MEnD Correctional Care and Sherburne County settle lawsuit claiming that poor medical care and flawed jail safety checks violated James Lynas’ constitutional rights

ELK RIVER, Minn. — Though James Lynas’ life ended in tragedy, his death continues to put a spotlight on the failures of Minnesota jails to properly supervise and provide adequate health care to inmates.

Sherburne County taxpayers and the county’s jail medical provider, MEnD Correctional Care, will pay Lynas’ family and their attorneys $2.3 million following a lawsuit settlement reached last month.

KARE 11 first reported on Lynas’ case in October. He had been going through drug withdrawal and repeatedly warned that he was having suicidal thoughts while an inmate at the Sherburne jail in 2016, records show.

Yet according to the lawsuit filed by his family he received no mental healthcare while guards failed to properly do required safety checks on him.

Those failures amounted to violations of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the lawsuit alleged.

Credit: KARE 11
Charity Brown says her brother deserved better care.

“There should have been better protection for anybody in that situation, whether it be my brother or the next person,” Lynas’ sister Charity Brown told KARE 11 during an interview last year.

Guards testified in depositions that they often conducted their safety checks from small windows on a catwalk where they could only see into a part of Lynas’ cell.

When Lynas hanged himself, attorney Robert Bennett says he apparently moved to a part of the cell the guards could not see.

Though the county moved to have the case dismissed, a federal judge rejected the motion, writing that the guard’s checks on Mr. Lynas amounted to no check at all.

Credit: KARE 11
A judge wrote that well-being checks done through small windows amounted to no checks at all.

Following the judge’s ruling in favor of the family, Sherburne County settled with the family for $1.3 million, while MEnD settled for $1 million.

Bob Bennett, who represented the Lynas family, said MEnD initially wanted the family to sign a non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement terms, but the family refused.

“If you’re going to try and hold somebody accountable, the best thing to do is shine the light of public opinion on it,” Bennett said.

Both Sherburne County and MEnD sent similar statements when asked for comment on the settlement, with both saying there was “no admission of wrongdoing.”

Countered Bennett: “I find it kind of odd that somebody would pay you $2.3 million and it wasn’t their fault.”

Credit: KARE 11
Attorney Robert Bennett hopes the $2.3 million settlement will prompt jail reforms.

For months KARE 11 has been reporting on jail failures in Minnesota, showing that Lynas’ case was but one example of inmates needlessly dying while not provided constitutionally mandated medical and mental health care.

Many of those cases involved MEnD Correctional Care, which has grown in the past ten years to become the largest care provider for the state’s jails. The company is led by Dr. Todd Leonard, who had been previously reprimanded by the state medical board for “unethical and unprofessional conduct.”


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