The family of a Stillwater prison corrections officer killed by an inmate last year could receive several million dollars in compensation under a pair of new measures making their way through the Legislature.
Joseph Gomm's July 2018 killing brought correctional officer safety and staffing issues into focus at the Capitol, including the formation of a new House subcommittee that conducted the first legislative hearing ever held inside a state prison in January.
Now, legislation being sponsored by lawmakers from both parties in the state House and Senate would compensate Gomm's family for his death in an effort to spare them "a little bit of pain of back-and-forth accusatory litigation," according to Rep. John Lesch, D-St. Paul, one of the House bill's sponsors.
"It's always a not very happy process to go through this and determine the value of a life, but courts do it all the time with wrongful death [lawsuits], so we'll be looking at the same types of factors that courts look at," Lesch said Monday.
Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, will soon introduce an identical measure in the state Senate, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Lesch previously sponsored a similar measure to compensate wrongfully imprisoned Minnesotans and cited legislation to pay for liabilities connected to the 2007 Interstate 35W bridge collapse as another example of victim legislation.
Although the measure calls for $3 million to be awarded to Gomm's family, Lesch said the amount could be subject to change after it is debated in committee. Inspectors for the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration also recently levied a $25,000 fine against the Department of Corrections (DOC) in connection with Gomm's death, a process Lesch said could affect the compensation's final amount.
OSHA inspectors looking into the incident alleged in January that the DOC did not ensure its employees were protected from workplace violence. According to a Department of Labor and Industry spokesman, the DOC formally contested the citation on Feb. 4 and said the DOC and OSHA would next need to schedule an informal conference to negotiate an agreement.
Mike Padden, an attorney for Gomm's family, declined to comment on the legislation to compensate the family but said they appreciated "the integrity, hard work, and final, objective conclusions of the OSHA officials."
"It's what my clients hope for and is a step in the right direction," Padden said.