Staff members sent to the ER
Law enforcement responded on Tuesday, Nov. 26 to an assault on staff members by juvenile residents at the Mille Lacs Nexus Academy that injured three staff members and sent two staff members to the hospital.
According to the incident report, a Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s deputy was called to assist the Onamia police department for an incident at the academy and was told by dispatch that things were escalating. Upon arrival, the deputy was updated that things were continually getting worse.
A deputy arrived and circled around the building. Once around the rear of building, the deputy noted a female staff member running toward the squad car frantically. The staff member told the deputy that two staff members were injured and that things were so out of control that the injured staff haven’t been able to be transported to the hospital yet.
The deputy saw a staff member with a large cut over their eye that was actively bleeding.
After law enforcement spoke with Nexus staff members, three 16-year-old residents were placed under arrest.
According to the incident report, some staff members were crying and visibly shook up due to the events that had taken place.
Two staff members were transported to the hospital by ambulance.
Other details of the incident have been redacted as they are private data or they pertain peace officer records of children that are also classified as private data.
Growing number of violent incidents at Mille Lacs Nexus Academy
There have been 91 calls for service at the Nexus Academy handled by the Onamia police department and nine by the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office this year.
There was a sharp rise in incidents in July of this year, mostly for assaults against staff and residents by other residents in the program. From July 1 to Nov. 11, 56 calls for service at the Nexus Academy were handled by the Onamia police department.
The most notable of incidents included riot and disorderly conduct charges against seven minors in the program for a Sept. 1 incident where residents had barricaded doors and assaulted staff members, requiring five law enforcement agencies to respond.
According to statements given by Nexus staff members to law enforcement, they expressed fear that they would be fired over the Sept. 1 incident and that there had been an increasing amount of violence and disorder at the facility.
The staff members told law enforcement that, due to inadequate staffing, the academy is an unsafe environment for themselves and other residents.
Onamia Police Chief Bob Matzke said he had spoken to at least a half dozen staff members over the past six months that also expressed concerns, not only with inadequate staffing numbers but also with staffing the program with employees on light duty due to previous injuries from assaults.
A Nov. 16 incident at the academy was reported by a parent of one of the minors in the program. When 911 dispatch called the academy to inquire about a possible disturbance, dispatch was told that there was a problem but that they were told not to call law enforcement.
When asked about how staff are to handle incidents, Interim Executive Director for Mille Lacs Academy Paula Minske said, “Mille Lacs is staffed to meet DHS requirements. In addition, we have recently put an emphasis on staff training and mentoring in trauma-informed care, interventions, and de-escalation. This focus will continue throughout the New Year as part of our plan to decrease our use of law enforcement.”
Minske said regarding staff protocol, “There is a procedure for staff to follow prior to calling law enforcement. That said, as part of our effort to decrease calls to police, we are reviewing our policies for when police are contacted. We are working closely with the police force to identify steps forward.”
However, Minske added, that when activity rises to the need for law enforcement, law enforcement is contacted.
An October Onamia police department report to the Onamia City Council cited concerns with the uptick in calls to service to the academy, specifically the increased amount of time law enforcement spends investigating the assaults and transporting subjects to detention facilities.
“These types of calls can have our officers tied up for hours out of the city, leaving the Sheriff’s office to respond to calls or issues in the city while our officer is gone,” the report said.
Minske responded to questions regarding the recent incident stating, “We are aware that calls to law enforcement have increased this year, and we are focused on decreasing this activity. We recognize the strain on resources and greatly appreciate the assistance of law enforcement. We are tackling the issue a variety of ways, and leadership will be reaching out to local entities, such as the police department, to partner with them on plans and solutions going forward.”
Minske stated that this past year, the academy has had a shift in services to address the increased need for kids suffering from trauma and mental health issues.
”We serve kids that have been through excessive traumatic experiences, like abuse, neglect, abandonment,” said Minske. “They come from difficult situations, and they need our help getting the tools to cope and move forward in a positive way. Trauma is complex, and it can often lead to challenging behavioral issues. The number of clientele experiencing high levels of trauma and mental health can shift from year to year.”