Family of inmate who died of dehydration, hunger files claim

AP News
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Posted: Aug 12, 2015 3:34 PM

COUPEVILLE, Wash. (AP) — The family of a man who died from dehydration and malnutrition in a jail in Washington state has filed a claim accusing the guards of negligence.

Keaton Farris died in April, and an investigation revealed that officers at the Island County Jail had turned off the water in his cell and failed to check on the 25-year-old.

Seattle attorney Kathy Goater wrote in the claim filed against Island County that Farris was placed in isolation and barely monitored by jail staff despite awaiting a mental health evaluation, The Daily Herald of Everett reported (http://bit.ly/1hy4Ly1 ).

The FBI is investigating, and prosecutors are working to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

The tort claim, the first step toward filing a lawsuit, alleges that Farris was place in an isolated cell "despite his obvious vulnerability." He was "barely monitored by jail staff, deprived of visits from concerned family members, not evaluated by medical staff, and deprived of sufficient water," the claim says.

Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks, in an emailed statement Wednesday, said: "The claim was not unexpected. The county will be represented by a private law firm in this matter, pursuant to our insurance policy."

He declined further comment about the claim.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, whose agency runs the small jail about 60 miles northwest of Seattle, has apologized publicly for the death. The jail chief was suspended and later retired. Two corrections officers resigned after the investigation alleged they falsified records logs after Farris died to make it appear they had checked on him. A lieutenant was placed on leave and later fired.

Farris had been arrested in March on a warrant for failing to make a court appearance on a second-degree identity theft charge. San Juan County prosecutors alleged that Farris in January cashed a check for nearly $355 that didn't belong to him.

At the time of his death, he was awaiting a mental health evaluation to determine if he could assist in his defense. Farris, of Lopez Island, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2014, the newspaper reported.

The county coroner found the cause of his death was dehydration with a contributing factor of malnutrition. The manner of death was ruled to be natural causes.

According to the county investigation by a sheriff's detective, corrections officers failed to regularly check on Farris or offer him water. The water had been shut off to Keaton Farris' cell at one point after he plugged the toilet with a pillow, the report said.

Records also show that Farris never received any medical treatment during the nearly three weeks he was locked up in Coupeville, the newspaper reported. A nurse visited him the day before Farris died, but the door to his cell was never opened and she didn't have any hands-on contact with him, according to records.

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Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com