$10 million claim filed against county in jail death

EVERETT — A $10 million claim for damages was filed this week by the mother of a Mukilteo man who died in the Snohomish County Jail last year after an allergic reaction to the breakfast he was served.

This is the second multimillion-dollar claim filed this year related to a death at the jail. In addition, a third family has hired an attorney to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a mentally ill man inside the county lock-up.

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary recently began implementing changes after an audit of the jail’s operating and medical services made numerous recommendations. A second report digging deeper into the jail’s medical operations is expected soon.

The most recent claim alleges that Michael Saffioti, 22, pleaded for medical attention for about half an hour before he collapsed in his cell. Seattle attorney James Rogers said his firm plans a detailed investigation into the young man’s July 3, 2012 death. He also promised in a press release to probe what he contends was “the county’s systemic failure to provide adequate medical care” to Saffioti.

A claim for damages typically is filed as the first step in a civil lawsuit.

Saffioti’s severe allergies were known to corrections officials, and in fact were so extreme that the city of Lynnwood had determined that they could not be adequately addressed in its jail, the claim says. Saffioti was locked up serving time for a misdemeanor marijuana offense in Lynnwood.

The claim says that Saffioti was placed in the county jail in a unit where inmates get closer supervision for mental health problems and other issues, but it was not a medical unit.

Among other things, Saffioti was allergic to dairy products. Even so, he was not placed on a list of inmates who received specially prepared meals, nor was he provided with a dairy-free breakfast, the claim alleges.

He began having problems within minutes of being served breakfast just after 6 a.m. Saffioti asked that a nurse be called. His condition deteriorated over the next half hour, but paramedics weren’t summoned until after he had already collapsed in his cell.

He was dead before 8 a.m.

Saffioti had surrendered to Lynnwood police the day before on a misdemeanor warrant for marijuana possession. He brought with him to the jail a bag of medications needed to control severe food allergies and respiratory problems that he’d lived with since he was a child.

Saffioti died from bronchial asthma, according to the medical examiner. A severe allergic reaction to milk products was listed as a contributing factor, initially.

Among inmates, Saffioti had been nicknamed “Bubble Boy” during a previous incarceration because his food had to be separately prepared and wrapped in plastic to avoid trace contaminants.

In 2008, Saffioti, then 17, was given an alternative sentence for minor offenses that required outpatient drug treatment but spared him a six-day term inside a juvenile facility because of his respiratory problems. At the time, a doctor wrote a letter saying Saffioti had “multiple potential life-threatening chronic illnesses, objectively documented,” which required environmental controls unlikely to be found behind bars.

The claim lists several jail inmates as potential witnesses. Since Saffioti’s death, several made statements about what they saw happen behind bars. One man claimed Saffioti was allowed access to his inhaler after reporting breathing problems but that it was taken away from him. The inmate also said Saffioti was accused of faking his symptoms.

Another inmate said he saw a corrections officer turn off the emergency alarm Saffioti was pressing because he became annoyed.

In January, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe announced that he wouldn’t be filing any criminal charges in connection with the Mukilteo man’s death.

Saffioti is among the eight people who have died at the jail since 2010.

A $10 million wrongful death claim was filed in March on behalf of Lyndsey Lason. That claim alleges that the 27-year-old woman’s death could have been prevented if staff had provided timely and adequate medical attention to Lason. The Everett mother died from a pulmonary infection in 2011.

Her chest was found to contain more than three liters of pus that partially collapsed her lungs, according to documents Everett attorney Royce Ferguson filed along with the damage claim.

Also in March, when County Executive John Lovick was still sheriff, he asked the National Institute of Corrections, a branch of the federal Department of Justice, to offer advice on operations and medical services at the jail.

Experts from Miami-Dade County in Florida and Nashville, Tenn., visited the jail and returned last month to complete their observations and make recommendations.

Shortly after being appointed sheriff in July, Trenary sought another perspective. He asked the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office to examine medical operations at the 1,200-bed jail in Everett. That county has been wrestling with similar jail challenges.

Trenary has since hired a part-time doctor and announced other proposed changes at the jail, including hiring more nurses and mental health professionals, moving from paper to electronic medical records, and more closely screening inmates before they’re booked into the jail.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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