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Police investigate murder at St. Peter’s Regional Treatment Center

Murder newest crisis at St. Peter's Treatment Center
Murder newest crisis at St. Peter's Treatment Center
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Police are investigating a murder that took place last night at St Peter’s Regional Treatment Center. The St. Peter Police Department was called to the treatment center shortly before 8:00 p.m. last night. When they arrived, they found patient Michael Francis Douglas, 41, lying on the floor unconscious and suffering from multiple injuries caused by what police have called “violent trauma.” Paramedics tried to revive Douglas, but he never regained consciousness. Douglas was new to the St. Peter’s Treatment Center, having only arrived there last month.

The main suspect in the murder is one Darnell Dee Whitefeather, 31, who was also a patient at the treatment center. Whitefeather was arrested last night and taken to Nicollet County Jail. He is expected to be charged with probable cause murder tomorrow. Like the majority of patients at St. Peter’s, both Whitefeather and Douglas had previous criminal records. Douglas was convicted of murder while Whitefeather was found guilty of robbery at knifepoint. Whitefeather also had a history of multiple violent assaults. Although both men had served time in prison, at some point they must have been found to be mentally incompetent, thus they were being treated at St. Peter’s rather then returning to jail.

In response to the homicide last night, officials from Minnesota Human Services division have been meeting with police and investigators to discuss new safety precautions that may be put in place. For example, the facility does have security cameras, but they currently do not cover all areas of the treatment center. This will likely be changed after investigators are finished with this case.

The most dangerous residents at St. Peter’s are housed in the 800 unit, where both Douglas and Whitefeather were staying. Whitefeather had previously resided in a less restrictive area, but was moved to the 800 unit after he tried to kill another resident only a week ago.

Although Whitefeather has been found mentally incompetent, he certainly knows something about criminal investigation, as employees of the center say that when police arrived last night Whitefeather was frantically attempting to clean his clothing to remove Douglas’s bloodstains.

St. Peter’s Regional Treatment Center, located at 100 Freeman Drive, was built in 1866 and it is the state’s oldest psychiatric facility. For more information about the history of St. Peter’s, including historical photographs, see the following link-

St. Peter’s was first called “The Asylum for the Insane,” then “The Hospital for the Criminally Insane,” “The Hospital for the Mentally Dangerous,” and “The Minnesota Security Hospital.”

Regardless of which name it uses, St. Peter’s has never been a stranger to crisis and controversy. The facility houses more than 300 of the region’s most dangerous criminals, yet it is set up more like a hospital than a correctional facility. It has been described as a chaotic, disorganized atmosphere by state officials as well as mental health providers who have chosen to quit working for the center. Although there has not been another known murder there in the past three decades, there have been multiple issues that have been brought to the attention of the Twin Cities public.

In November of 2013, Twin Cities’ residents were alarmed to hear that multiple Level III Sex Offenders were going to be released from the facility. The proposed release brought about discussion between mental health providers, politicians and correctional staff. Many people were outraged at the idea of these men being put back into society, while others pointed out that if we as a society send sex offenders to a treatment facility, that means we are supposedly treating them, rather than punishing them, and at some point they should be released. This controversy drilled down to the bedrock issue of whether rehabilitation and treatment are actually possible for the most extreme offenders. The issue is still up for dispute. For more information about this, see the following links-

In September of 2013, St. Peter's resident Burton James Ewing Jr. calmly confessed that he had tried to kill his mother, Marlys Olson. Ewing had killed his sister 14 years earlier by beating her to death with a hammer. He said that he had planned on killing his mother on the same day, but she had not been at home, so he had waited until he had another opportunity to finish the job. Ewing’s mother had come to visit him at St. Peters on May 8th, 2012 for an off-campus day- trip. The day was supposed to be a celebration for Ewing because St. Peter’s staff had recommended that he be placed on supervised release. Ms. Olson planned to picnic with her son, and then do some errands in town. She brought him steak for their celebratory picnic. Ewing met his mother at her car with a rusty bicycle seat. He said that he wanted to get the seat replaced while they were doing errands. He also said that he wanted to show her a boat landing off of Highway 169 in a wooded area. All of this was part of Ewing’s calculated ploy. Luckily, a couple was walking nearby. When they saw Ewing they thought he might have been illegally hunting in the desolate area. They stepped forward to see more clearly, and witnessed Ewing repeatedly stabbing his mother with a steak knife. Ewing later admitted to a judge that he had initially planned to kill her by hitting her over the head with the bicycle seat, but it was too soft. He then attempted to gouge out her eyes with barbeque tongs, (as he had previously done to a cat,) but determined that they were not strong enough. Then he remembered that they had a steak knife in the back of the car, and decided that this was the right weapon to kill his mother, whom he said he loved, even though she was the devil.

Ewing had planned to stab Olson until she was dead, then to impale her with a tree limb. Thankfully, the witnesses who saw Ewing called the police and prevented him from killing his mother.

Although Ewing stabbed Olson at least 23 times, a deputy arrived in time to save her life. She spent three months in the hospital and still has difficulty breathing. It is not known whether Ewing was returned to St. Peter’s facility or placed somewhere else.

On the same day that Ewing tried to kill his mother, another St. Peter’s resident walked off campus. This resident was wearing a security ankle bracelet and had been sent to the facility after committing multiple violent assaults. His security bracelet alerted police that he was out of his assigned area, and this prompted a search by law enforcement personnel. He was found the next day in the same park area where Ewing had tried to kill his mother.

While it would be foolish to underestimate the dedication that is involved in working in mental health services and treating these types of clientele, it is clear that the St. Peter’s facility must make some changes if it is to adequately protect both its clientele and the outside population.

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