The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 28, 2014

Murder suspect charged with previous assault

By Dan Nienaber
The Mankato Free Press

---- — ST. PETER — A Bemidji man who is facing a second-degree murder charge for allegedly beating a man to death in the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter is now accused of assaulting another inmate a week before the alleged murder occurred.

After Darnell Dee Whitefeather, 32, was accused of punching an inmate in the face Jan. 15, he remained in the Security Hospital. On Jan. 22 he was arrested and taken to the Nicollet County Jail after he allegedly beat 41-year-old Michael Francis Douglas to death. Douglas was committed to the hospital as mentally ill and dangerous after serving 21 years in prison for murdering a man in Mankato in 1991.

Details of the previous assault came to light in a criminal complaint filed this week in Nicollet County District Court. It accuses Whitefeather of breaking another inmate’s nose during a flurry of punches in the victim’s room. Douglas had been found beaten to death in his cell in a more secure area of the hospital, called the 800 unit, where Whitefeather was sent after the earlier assault.

The assault victim, Michael Staples, told St. Peter police investigators he had arrived at the hospital the day he was beaten. He said Whitefeather accused him of being a child molester before punching him in the face several times. Staples also reported the assault continued after he curled up on the floor in an attempt to protect himself.

A counselor at the hospital told investigators she had seen Whitefeather talking to another inmate, Martin Doerr, either before or after the assault. Whitefeather was making punching motions and moving his head like he was being punched before he and Doerr walked over to Staples’ room and looked through a window in the door, the counselor reported.

Doerr later told investigators Whitefeather knew Staples was a “cho-mo,” a term inmates use for someone they think is a child molester. He said he was in his room when the assault occurred, but Whitefeather told him he “could have gotten in on it with him and had some fun,” the complaint said.

In the Douglas case, police were called to the hospital at about 8 p.m. Jan. 22, nearly two hours after Whitefeather allegedly attacked Douglas in his cell. They found Douglas bleeding and unresponsive.

An affidavit used to request a search warrant after the killing said a counselor reported seeing someone closing Douglas’ door sometime between 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Whitefeather asked the counselor for laundry detergent at about 7 p.m. A short time later Whitefeather returned and said, “I did something bad,” and “I needed to get my anger out,” the affidavit said.

When counselors checked Douglas’ room, the door was shut and the light was out. Douglas was found bleeding on the floor when the light was turned on. That criminal complaint said the St. Peter Police Department was first called at 7:53 p.m. When Whitefeather was interviewed, he allegedly told investigators he entered Douglas’ room at about 6 p.m., punched him in the face and stomped on his head about 30 times.

The Security Hospital and other treatment facilities at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center have been under scrutiny after a series of events that have resulted in internal investigations of staff and criminal charges against inmates.

The Treatment Center is operated by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Staff there has declined to answer questions about Douglas’ death until after an internal investigation is completed.

Whitefeather, who is being evaluated to see if he is competent for trial, is no longer at the St. Peter facility, according to court records. District Court Judge Allison Krehbiel has issued an order saying Whitefeather should be transported to Nicollet County from the maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights on April 9. He has hearings scheduled for both cases on that day.