- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - The head of North Dakota’s prison system isn’t pleased that criminal charges have been dropped against former Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski.

Corrections chief Leann Bertsch told the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/2rHWwVU ) she wanted the case to go trial, “so the public would know all the details.”

Kukowski was charged with misdemeanors connected to the 2014 death of jail inmate Dustin Irwin. Prosecutors alleged Kukowski, who was suspended in 2016, didn’t attempt to get medical care for Irwin despite being aware of a medical condition. Kukowski resigned in April, the same month the county agreed to pay him a $75,000 settlement for his promise not to sue the county.

The Ward County Commission also voted to keep private an audio recording from an executive session where the resignation was discussed.

“I’ve been here 12 years and dealt with other jail compliance actions, and this is the most egregious situation I’ve ever run into,” Bertsch said. “The response was to protect the sheriff and act like there was nothing wrong. That was really surprising to our department.”

Irwin died after being transferred to the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department. He went into a cardiac arrest and died at a hospital. The state Corrections Department determined that Ward jail officials failed to give the inmate proper supervision or medical treatment.

During the investigation of the incident, investigators the Corrections Department, collected statements from some of the jail’s employees who said inmates didn’t deserve medical care and “more bullets will take care of the issue,” according to investigators’ report.

Bertsch said Ward County Jail’s “deep seated culture” will take time to change. She said a recent report from the Corrections Department said the county jail’s management and operation is improving but continues to be monitored the state at the county’s expense. A full-time monitor was put at the jail in 2016, after the investigation of Irwin’s death.

A special prosecutor assigned to the case filed a motion last month that the charges be dropped, at the request of the Ward County Commission. Commissioners said it was the best move financially for the county.


Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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