Cass County and the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust have agreed to pay $2 million to the estate of Darren Benais of Cass Lake, who died March 15, 2018, in a holding cell at the county jail, a day after drinking toxic windshield wiper fluid.

Last Thursday, Jason M. Hiveley of the law firm Iverson Reuvers Condon released the following statement:

“Cass County and the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust agreed to pay $2 million to Darren Benais’s estate in exchange for a dismissal of any claims stemming from the events surrounding his death.

“There was no admission of wrongdoing and no non-monetary terms were included. However, the involved staff were disciplined and received unpaid suspensions. Additionally, in an effort to prevent a tragedy like this from occurring again, all staff completed comprehensive poison prevention training and safety measures were implemented to prevent inmates from accessing and ingesting poisonous chemicals in the future.”

On March 14, 2018, Benais was being transported from a doctor’s appointment back to jail in a transport van, which is where he found and drank the windshield wiper fluid. After Benais was returned to the Cass County Jail, staff made several checks and found him sleeping and snoring. On the last check the next morning, staff noticed the victim was not snoring and was unresponsive. Efforts were made to revive him, but Benais was declared deceased.

A report by Investigator Robert Stein notes the victim had a history of mostly untreated diabetes and heavy alcohol usage and recently drank toilet bowl cleaner at the Crow Wing County Jail.

In response to questions from The Pilot-Independent, Sheriff Tom Burch said that two corrections officers were suspended without pay for eight shifts (96 hours);  a third was suspended for three shifts (36 hours) without pay.

Significant change also have been made, including mandated OSHA training. All staff must complete annual Department of Health poison prevention training.  The transport vans have been re-fitted with protective barriers. The entire staff is now required to go through all policy procedure manuals on a quarterly basis.

From now on, no toxic cleaning supplies or other materials will be allowed.

The Detention Center is in the process of making sure that when all transported inmates have arrived at the jail and are settled in their units, a supervisor will be on duty, in addition to the staff person in charge, to ensure that procedures and policies are followed.

In comments to KSTP Channel 5 News, the Benais family’s attorney, Katie Bennett, called the actions of corrections officers “deliberate indifference; ...they collectively did nothing.”

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