Grand Forks standoff suspects dies shortly after being booked into jail; cause of death unknown
GRAND FORKS -- A Grand Forks man arrested Monday, July 9, died shortly after an hours-long standoff.
Samuel James Nelson, 36, was taken about 7:15 p.m. Monday from the Grand Forks County Correctional Center to Altru Hospital, where he passed away shortly after arrival, Jail Administrator Bret Burkholder said Tuesday morning. An autopsy has been ordered to determine the cause of death.
“We have no idea what happened, what’s going on,” he said. “Of course, we won’t until there is an autopsy and a complete investigation as to that.”
Nelson was arrested Monday after a nearly five-hour standoff at an apartment complex in the 1100 block of 14th Avenue South. He had five active warrants in the city, including one for a February criminal case involving numerous misdemeanor drug charges.
Nelson fled officers about 12:45 p.m. Monday when they attempted to apprehend him, according to the Grand Forks Police Department. Investigators believed Nelson was armed and called multiple agencies to help with his apprehension.
He surrendered peacefully at 5:30 p.m., and he was medically evaluated by paramedics at the scene before being booked at 6 p.m. into the Grand Forks jail. During the incident, officers found a suspicious backpack that contained a loaded handgun, Nelson’s wallet and identification, according to a news release issued Tuesday.
The firearm has been safely secured, the release said.
He was found unresponsive about an hour later by correctional officers when they were doing routine checks, Burkholder said.
While in the apartment, Nelson barricaded himself in an attic crawl space, Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel said. Temperatures reached the mid-80s Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
“It would have been warm, which is why we had Altru paramedics evaluate him immediately upon his exit of the building,” Zimmel said.
Medical staff said Nelson was healthy enough to be taken to jail, Zimmel said. Though Nelson surrendered to officers, he resisted efforts by police, paramedics and jail staff to assist him, Zimmel added.
“He was actively fighting officers,” Zimmel said.
Altru Health System declined to comment on Nelson’s health prior to being admitted to the jail, saying the man didn’t consent to any release of his information. No one with Altru has been placed on leave, and the medical entity doesn’t plan on conducting an internal investigation regarding the incident, Altru spokeswoman Angie Laxdal said in a statement.
“Altru takes every encounter seriously,” she said. “We follow a standard process to carefully analyze patients to assure they are in a stable condition before being released to law enforcement.”
Nothing points to foul play or self-harm, Burkholder said, adding a full investigation must be performed before conclusions can be drawn.
“We have to let time go by for a thorough investigation,” he said. “It’s very important for everyone’s sake that this is investigated and we have some idea as to what happened.”
The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation plans to send an agent to investigate the death, which is a routine practice when someone dies at the facility, Burkholder said.
“We will always bring in an outside agency to investigate something like this to ensure everything is done the way it is supposed to be and that we’re not trying to hide anything,” he said.
Nelson is the second Grand Forks jail inmate in two years to die after being booked into the facility. Nathan Benedict Dogskin, 45, was found unresponsive April 21 in his cell before being taken to Altru, where he died less than 24 hours later. Officials believe the cause of death was pneumonia.
The death sparked an investigation by the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which issued an order of noncompliance to the jail for violating several state rules all correctional centers must follow.
That included failing to put Dogskin in a padded cell despite his displaying special needs and failing to transport him to a hospital after being advised to do so by a nurse. Dogskin displayed behavior that required closer examination, according to the DOCR report, including refusing to eat, urinating and banging his head on the floor, and experiencing double vision.
The DOCR also found at least four jail policies that the jail needed to update, including one detailing the use of now-banned restraint method known as “hog-tying” to deal with self-destructive inmates.
The DOCR inspected the jail in June and found it to be in compliance, Burkholder and DOCR spokeswoman Michelle Linster said Tuesday.
The jail also has had about two dozen suicide attempts since 2013, according to an open records request submitted by the Herald. Jail staff lost one inmate to suicide in 12 years -- that happened in August 2006, before the correctional center moved from its downtown location to its north-end facility a month later.