Alleged violations cause for investigation

2007-12-21T18:00:00Z Alleged violations cause for investigation Bismarck Tribune
December 21, 2007 6:00 pm

JAMESTOWN - A man committed to the State Hospital's sex offender unit alleges his rights were violated.

The state Labor Department's Human Rights Division is investigating the allegations of Gerald DeCoteau, 45, who lived earlier in Fort Yates and Minot. Hospital Superintendent Alex Schweitzer denied the allegations.

Milena Stojkovic, the compliance investigator for the Labor Department, said the investigation could take "weeks if not months" because of the large amount of material involved.

The Jamestown Sun said it also got the material, including, tape recordings secretly made by DeCoteau speaking with the staff of the sex offender, court records, DeCoteau's behavioral plan for the unit and notarized statements from former hospital employees.

DeCoteau was civilly committed to the State Hospital as a dangerous sex offender after serving eight years for gross sexual imposition in Morton County. He also had been convicted of second degree rape in 1983 in Washington state.

"We've thoroughly looked at the complaints over the years from Mr. DeCoteau, and I can say that his needs are being met and his rights are being respected, similar to any other patient on that unit," Schweitzer said.

DeCoteau alleges the hospital is violating his right to the least restrictive conditions necessary for treatment. He has been kept segregated from others for allegedly attempting to control other residents and threatening and intimidating staff.

"I have to earn a towel to wipe my hands. I have to earn salt and pepper for my food. There's a camera on me 24 hours a day, even when I go to the restroom," DeCoteau said.

Former hospital employee Shawn Steele said she was fired because she refused to write in DeCoteau's medical record that he had instigated an incident in which another resident threatened to kill him.

Another former staff member, Cindy Didier, said she quit working at the hospital because she could not tolerate the way residents - particularly DeCoteau - were treated. She has maintained a relationship with DeCoteau that she says is platonic, and she has his legal power of attorney.

"If an incident between staff and patients (occurred), the chart always made themselves look good and like it was the patient's fault," Didier said. "They (residents) are treated so disrespectfully and rudely by the staff. I'm not downplaying what they did, but they're still human."

Schweitzer would not respond to specific questions about DeCoteau or the people who wrote notarized letters supporting him.

"I cannot speak to the state of mind or opinions of a third party," Schweitzer said. "I can reiterate that (the) hospital is comfortable that staff treat all patients at the hospital with respect and dignity - and that their patient rights are met appropriately. Any deviation from the policies and procedures of the hospital in respect to patients are investigated and dealt with according to policy."

DeCoteau said only certain staff members on the day shift treated him unfairly, and that the night shift treats him with respect.

Kirk Preske, chief of security on the sex offender unit, said DeCoteau demands a great deal of time and attention from the staff.

DeCoteau insists he was not guilty of the crime that led to his imprisonment and civil commitment. He believes he is being punished for refusing to cooperate with treatment.

DeCoteau said he put a cross up on the window of his room and staff members removed it. In a court documents, hospital officials indicated the cross was painted with toothpaste, and staff members believed DeCoteau put it up to identify his for a suspected escape attempt. The window in his room is barred.

Stojkovic said she will report her findings investigators and the director of the human rights division. If she finds no discrimination has occurred, DeCoteau may take his case to court.

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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