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ST. CLOUD — The family of a St. Cloud man who died in custody at Stearns County Jail is suing the county and a local health care organization, accusing them of ignoring the man's pleas that he couldn't breathe.

According to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, 37-year-old Nick D. Norberg showed signs of respiratory distress for five hours before he died on the floor of a jail cell early Oct. 17, 2022.

"Once again, we have a Minnesota inmate pleading with medical and correctional personnel for his life, and those pleas go ignored," attorney Jeff Storms said in a release.

Norberg's father, Dan Norberg, and Nick's ex-wife and mother of his two children, Susan Norberg, are suing CentraCare and Stearns County, as well as a few medical staff and county jail employees.

Stearns County did not respond to a request for comment on the case. A CentraCare representative said in an emailed statement: "We are deeply saddened by the death of Nickolas Norberg and the loss of life experienced by his family and loved ones. Due to pending litigation, CentraCare cannot comment further at this time."

According to the lawsuit, Nick Norberg was arrested and brought to CentraCare-St. Cloud Hospital on Oct. 16, 2022, after he purchased a dozen cans of aerosol dust-removal spray and spent three hours "becoming intoxicated from the spray in a Walmart restroom."

The lawsuit states that Norberg previously sustained a traumatic brain injury from a vehicle accident, after which he struggled with severe depression and substance abuse.

A month before he was arrested, Norberg went to the hospital's emergency department after consuming inhalants and experiencing suicidal ideations. During that visit, doctors performed an electrocardiogram and Norberg was discharged with a note recommending a follow-up appointment for his uncontrolled hypertension.

After Norberg was arrested, his hands were cuffed behind his back during transport and his visit at the hospital, during which he repeatedly complained he was having difficulty breathing and felt he was having a heart attack, the lawsuit alleges.

Medical staff conducted an electrocardiogram, which noted a significant increase in his heart rate from the September test but doctors didn't order a complete workup and wrote in Norberg's chart he was "alert and oriented, talking in full sentences" though an officer's body-worn camera shows him "rocking back and forth gasping for air," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit alleges that Norberg was then brought to Stearns County Jail, where he was put in a cell without screening procedures, despite jail policy that states an initial medical screening must be completed for all inmates.

A medical employee at the jail ordered a dose of Ativan, a sedative drug often used to treat agitation from withdrawal, and told jail staff to follow-up if his behavior continued; the lawsuit states Ativan "had the potential to further compromise Nick's respiratory or cardiovascular function."

Over the next few hours, two correctional officers conducted multiple well-being checks on Norberg but never rechecked his vitals despite him crawling on the floor and begging for help, the lawsuit alleges.

About eight minutes after Norberg is shown on camera to take his last breath, an officer performed a well-being check but didn't do anything about his "obvious discoloration and absent breathing," the lawsuit states. It wasn't until another check 25 minutes later that guards unsuccessfully administered first aid. The lawsuit states Norberg was pronounced dead just after 2:30 a.m. from cardiac dysfunction.