Hennepin County jailer died after attack by mentally ill, HIV-infected inmate

If the Hennepin County mental health commitment system worked properly, a guard at the Public Safety Facility might still be alive today.

Last December, a Hennepin County jailer was bitten by an inmate named Derres King. King suffers from severe mental illness that had gone untreated in jail. He is also infected with HIV.

Because the bite broke his skin, the guard started on preventative HIV treatment. The side effects were extreme, and debilitating for the 50-year-old jailer. Last month, the guard died.

"Though the exact cause of death has not yet been released by the medical examiner," writes Judge Jay Quam, who presides over the civil commitment court, "it is fair to conclude that the bite Mr. King inflicted contributed to [the guard's] death."

This tragic case illustrates the problems facing Hennepin County's civil commitment system. As we documented in our March cover story, "Unfit for Trial," a combination of bureaucracy, budget cuts, and a mysterious increase in mentally ill offenders coming to the system through the jail has made it the norm for offenders to languish in a cell for months on end waiting to be hospitalized.

The consequences can be dire for everyone involved. Often times untreated and in a solitary cell, offenders can decompensate by the time they finally get help, and sometimes end up leaving in worse condition than when they came in. The guards are also put in the dangerous position of trying to control mentally ill inmates who resist them, which can easily lead to attacks.

Thursday, Quam ordered that King be committed as mentally ill and dangerous, a commitment that comes with an indeterminate sentence to the Minnesota Security Hospital. In his order, Quam goes into detail about the dysfunctional civil commitment system, citing City Pages' coverage to highlight an example.

Writes Quam: "While they are sitting in jail they often recede further into the depths of their illness; they present a danger to themselves; they present a danger to their fellow inmates; and they present a danger to the good men and women who run the jails."

Here is what happened, according to Quam's order:

King was first arrested last October after attacking his neighbor with a butcher knife, coffee pot, and flaming piece of paper, and was eventually charged with second-degree assault.

King, then 24, had been exposed to HIV while in the womb. He suffered from a number of mental illnesses that had gone untreated, including: Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schiophrenia, Personality Disorder, Adjustment Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

A jail cell may have been the worst place for him. It would eventually be determined that King was not competent to stand trial, and his case would be sent to the civil commitment system.

But in the meantime, King remained in jail, and refused to take medication. His behavior quickly became a problem for the jailers. He threatened to spit at one guard, and was "very disruptive and verbally assaultive," jailers noted.

Here's how one jailer described King: "Manipulative, labor intensive behavior due to medical issues. Currently not suitable for [general population]."

On New Year's Eve, King complained to a guard that he hadn't received a spoon with his meal. The guard suspected King might have been hiding the spoon, possibly to be used for a weapon, and asked him to step out so his cell could be searched.

During a pat-down, King broke free from the guards, grabbed a food tray, and threw it at one of them. Two deputies restrained and handcuffed King, but he still struggled. That's when another guard jumped in to help.

With all three jailers trying to restrain him, King took a bite out of one guard's leg. He bit down for "several seconds," breaking through the pant leg and skin. King was charged with fourth-degree assault.

The guard quickly began the treatment to prevent HIV infection.

"This treatment regimen was debilitating to [the guard], causing him to suffer many serious side effects," writes Quam. The guard "was never the same after receiving treatment."

He died only a few months later.

"The danger that mentally ill people in jail present is not theoretical," writes Quam. "To verify this you could ask [the guard], if he were still alive."

Previous Coverage:

  • COVER: Unfit for Trial
  • Hennepin County court gap cycles out mentally ill offenders

  • Sponsor Content


    All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

    Sign Up >

    No Thanks!

    Remind Me Later >