WALKER - The heirs of a jail inmate who hanged himself in the county jail in 2004 have filed a wrongful death lawsuit signed Dec. 6 in Cass County District Court against the county.
Listed as plaintiff in the case is Robin VanKleeck, whom the court appointed Dec. 6 as trustee for the heirs and next of kin of decedent Thomas Edward VanKleeck, who died Dec. 10, 2004, while being held in Cass County jail. The plaintiff's attorney is Daniel E. Meshbesher of the Meshbesher Law Firm in St. Louis Park.
Ramsey County medical examiner's office reported after conducting an autopsy in 2004 that the cause of death was asphyxiation and the manner of death was suicide.
Defendants listed in the lawsuit are Cass County, Cass County Sheriff's Department, Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher, unnamed county jailers, unnamed nurse who examined the decedent for the sheriff's department and unnamed medical professional who cared for the decedent for Cass County.
The lawsuit claims the defendants failed to provide VanKleeck adequate care or supervision owed to him and that they or their employees denied him prescribed medications and were otherwise negligent in regard to their treatment of him.
The plaintiffs claim the defendants should have known VanKleeck was suicidal and that they breached their duties to him by wrongful actions and omissions, and that these breaches of duty did cause the death of the decedent.
They claim funeral expenses and pecuniary losses in excess of $50,000.
Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust-appointed attorney Roger Rowlette will represent the county and sheriff's department in the lawsuit.
Thomas VanKleeck, then age 47, Pequot Lakes, was accused of robbing the Backus branch of First National Bank of Walker Nov. 26, 2004. Nov. 30, 2004, officers located a van in Pequot Lakes matching the description of the suspect's vehicle and subsequently interviewed and arrested VanKleeck.
He was arraigned in Cass County District Court Dec. 2, 2004, on felony charges of simple robbery and theft. He died prior to his scheduled first court appearance with his attorney Dec. 13, 2004.
According to the court complaint filed against him in 2004, a white male wearing a brown jacket, gray hood, blue sunglasses and a mask with a slit on it asked a Backus bank teller to fill a brown paper bag with money. He indicated four individuals were holding his wife hostage nearby. He reportedly left with approximately $3,100, according to the complaint.
The complaint indicated officers recovered several items of clothing from VanKleeck that matched those the robber wore and that VanKleeck "admitted having gone to the bank and taken the money."
Sheriff Fisher said in 2004 VanKleeck had a psychological evaluation immediately after his arrest and before being booked into jail.
He also said VanKleeck had been placed on suicide watch after being booked and was placed in a single person cell close to the jail's central control room, being checked about every 15 minutes. Jailers checked him about six minutes before he was found at 4:35 p.m., the sheriff said in 2004, adding attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Paul McCabe, a spokesman for the FBI in 2004, said then federal officials were evaluating whether to press federal charges in the case, which could have resulted in up to 20 years in federal prison. The state charges already filed against him could have resulted in up to 10 years on each count or a $20,000 fine or both.
When contacted by telephone Wednesday, Fisher declined to give new comments relating to the case, because of the pending litigation, but did say Minnesota Department of Corrections and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigated VanKleeck's suicide in 2004. Their resulting reports indicated at that time that Cass County officials had followed proper procedures in attempting to prevent his death, the sheriff said.
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