Wisconsin youth prison staff member declared brain-dead after inmate assault

A 16-year-old suspect has been charged with felony murder and is being held on a $100K cash bond at Lincoln County Jail

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A sign says "Copper Lake School, Lincoln Hills School" in front of a tall fence with barbed wire.
A fence surrounds Wisconsin’s Lincoln Hills youth prison Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Irma, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A 16-year-old suspect has been charged with felony murder after a staff member at Wisconsin’s youth prison died from injuries he sustained during an assault on Monday. 

Corey Proulx, 49, was critically injured during a fight Monday at Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake Schools in Irma in northern Wisconsin. He was flown to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead Tuesday afternoon. 

The teen has been charged with felony murder, second degree reckless homicide, and two counts of battery by prisoners, according to a release from the Lincoln County Sheriff. He’s being held at the Lincoln County Jail on a $100,000 cash bond, according to the release. 

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Proulx was declared brain-dead Tuesday at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, Lincoln County Coroner Valerie Caylor told WPR.

“As of right now, family is going through with the steps for organ procurement. We are waiting on that, for that to be approved,” she said. “And then after that, an autopsy will be performed.”

Law enforcement responded to calls that two staff members had been injured at Lincoln Hills School on Monday evening. A 25-year-old woman was treated for her injuries and released, according to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office. 

The inmate did not suffer any injuries during the altercation that required medical treatment, state Department of Corrections spokesperson Beth Hardtke said.

“Corey was a dedicated and compassionate member of our team, always striving to make a positive impact on the lives of the young individuals we serve,” Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools Superintendent Klint Trevino said in a message to staff. “His commitment to our mission was unwavering, and he will be deeply missed by all of us.”

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department is leading the investigation with assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice DIvision of Criminal Investigation, the Wisconsin State Patrol and the Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office.

The Department of Corrections has deployed peer supporters to help staff process the event, according to a release from the agency. 

Gov. Tony Evers ordered flags to fly at half-staff to honor Proulx. 

“Our hearts break for Corey, his family and loved ones, his colleagues at the department, and all those who knew and loved him,” Evers said in a statement. “By all accounts, Corey was a dedicated public servant who led with kindness and compassion in his commitment toward helping and supporting the youth he worked with.” 

Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake is Wisconsin’s only youth prison. The facility has been plagued by allegations of staff-on-inmate abuse, including excessive use of pepper spray, restraints and strip searches. A court-appointed monitor is currently overseeing the facility.