Family of neglected Washington state inmate settles claim for $4 million

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) – The family of a mentally ill Washington state man who died of dehydration and malnutrition after officers placed him in a jail cell without running water has reached a $4 million settlement agreement with authorities, a sheriff said on Friday.

The April death of 25-year-old Keaton Farris at the jail in Coupeville, 45 miles north of Seattle, raised questions about the treatment of mentally ill inmates in the Island County jail.

In August, his family filed a claim against the county.

Under the terms of their settlement, an expert hired to evaluate jail operations will continue to monitor the facility and meet staff and officials over the next 18 months, Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said.

The county has made a number of improvements to jail operations and hired a nurse practitioner and a new jail chief, Brown said, adding: “We hope this never happens again.”

In June, Brown apologized to the Farris family and announced personnel changes at the jail. In a statement, he called the death the tragic result of a “systemic breakdown.”

Farris was arrested in March by police in Lynnwood, Washington, on an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court in San Juan County on a theft charge, the family’s claim said. He was later transferred to the Island County jail.

A report issued by the Island County sheriff in June said Farris was found dead in his jail on April 8, and that jail staff had failed to check on his well-being the previous day.

He was placed in the cell on April 4 with the water turned off, after he stuffed a pillow into a toilet in another cell and caused a flood, according to the report.

Based on jail logs, it appears Farris might have received 185 ounces of fluids during nearly two weeks at Island County jail. Based on U.S. health guidelines, he should have received 791 ounces to stay alive, the report said.

The coroner’s office found that Farris died of dehydration with a contributing factor of malnutrition.

The agreement was reached this week with Island, San Juan and Skagit counties.

A lawyer representing the family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Robert Birsel)