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St. Croix jail lawsuit settled for $1 million

St. Croix County, its insurer and a company that provided medical services to inmates have agreed to pay $1 million to the family of a 28-year-old man who died in jail.

An out-of-court settlement was reached with the family of Brandon Lee Hessler, New Richmond, who died March 18, 2007, three days after being booked into the county jail in Hudson.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb approved the agreement last Thursday.

The settlement calls for St. Croix County and Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance Company to pay $812,500 and for Health Professionals Ltd. and its insurance company to pay $187,500.

The county is responsible for its $250,000 deductible, said St. Croix Corporation Counsel Greg Timmerman Monday.

The parties have 30 days to pay the settlement amounts to the Bye, Goff and Rohde law firm's client trust account.

Hessler's parents, Dan Hessler of Arden Hills, Minn. and Halleigh Hall of New Richmond, filed a wrongful death suit in Eau Claire County in February 2008. A month later the suit, against Sheriff Dennis Hillstead and several St. Croix County jailers, was moved to federal court.

According to newspaper accounts at the time, Hessler, who was on 15-minute medical watch, was found unresponsive in the jail at about 2:30 p.m. March 18, 2007. Jail staff performed CPR. Ambulance personnel continued life-saving procedures but failed to revive Hessler, who was pronounced dead at Hudson Hospital.

An autopsy determined the cause of death was kidney and liver failure.

According to police reports from the time, on March 10, 2007, residents on Sixth Street in New Richmond called police because a man who seemed impaired came to their door. Hessler was arrested outside.

The officer who responded said Hessler, who said he'd recently been released from the hospital, was slurring his words and appeared disoriented.

When she was located, a relative said Hessler was dependent on drugs and suffered mental problems, according to the police report, which said the man gave a false name and offered a false identification.

Hessler was charged with resisting or obstructing an officer and bail jumping and released.

On March 15, 2007, a family member called New Richmond police to her apartment. According to that incident report, the relative said she suspected Hessler was under the influence of a controlled substance.

Hessler appeared agitated, says the report. The policeman told Hessler's mother that he couldn't be forced into treatment, but the officer attempted to take him into custody for violating the absolute sobriety requirement of his bond.

The report says three officers tried to handcuff Hessler, he resisted, and a female officer used her Taser to "dry stun" him.

According to the civil suit filed by Hessler's parents, he "was too ill" to make his initial court appearance the day after he was booked into the jail and that hearing was rescheduled.

The lawsuit claimed that although Hessler exhibited severe physical symptoms, he wasn't given medical care or taken for treatment until just before his death.

The civil lawsuit named these officers as defendants: Hillstead, Sgt. Mark Mikla and jailers Dana Juaire, Tamara Mark, James Wildman, Lacy Mayavski, Michael Welch, David Dykes, Raquel Stockey, Robert Larson and Kris Anderson.

Investigations by the Dunn County Sheriff's Department and the Wisconsin Department of Justice determined no criminal activity was involved in the death.

Mikla, who was supervisor of the shift when Hessler died, later resigned as a result of the incident, said Hillstead.

Three other jailers who were working that shift were suspended with pay in April 2007 but went back on duty four months later. No disciplinary action was taken against them, said the sheriff.