Autopsy to determine whether death was suicide.
A 45-year-old client of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake died Saturday in what is believed to be the first suicide in the program’s history.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), which administers the civil commitment program, issued a statement saying that the client died as a result of an “incident” that occurred Friday. The St. Louis County medical examiner is scheduled to conduct an autopsy on Tuesday in Hibbing.
Citing privacy laws, the DHS declined to identify the man, the means of his death, whether he left a note, the court that committed him to the program or the date he entered.
Sources, however, identified the man as Raymond Messer, who, according to court records, was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1987, 1993 and 2007, and of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct and in 1991 and of failing to register as a criminal sexual offender in 2001. Messer was committed to the sex offender program in 2007 after an assault on a preteen family member.
“We extend our sympathy to the client’s family and friends,” the agency said Monday in a prepared statement. “As with any serious incident, we are fully investigating the circumstances and reviewing all relevant policies and procedures.”
Messer’s unit at Moose Lake was locked down from about 6:20 p.m. Friday to 6:30 a.m. Saturday as a precaution; security was not compromised, the agency said.
Since its creation in 1994, the sex offender program has grown rapidly and now has 693 clients. But only one client has been provisionally discharged to the community in that time, leading some critics in the legal community to call the program a de facto life sentence.
According to emergency room records, there have been two previous suicide attempts in the program this year, and one attempt last year. In addition, there have been six self-inflicted injuries that required medical attention this year, compared with nine in 2012.
A federal class-action lawsuit filed by several clients is challenging the constitutionality of the program. Daniel Gustafson, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said Monday that he didn’t know Messer. He said the plaintiffs and state have been in settlement talks for about a year. “We’re sort of getting to the point where we’re going to settle the case or litigate the case,” Gustafson said. “I think we’ll know the answer within the next 10 days.”
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493