Family of woman who died in county jail files $5 million claim

EVERETT — The family of a mentally ill woman who died in the Snohomish County Jail in 2014 filed a claim for damages on Tuesday, seeking $5 million.

Marilyn E. Mowan, 62, of Everett, committed suicide in the jail on Sept. 23, 2014, by drinking a lethal amount of water. The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, alleges that jail staff knew about Mowan’s risk for self-harm and failed to protect her.

The family’s attorney, Cheryl Snow, of Seattle, also says they are seeking reforms in how the sheriff’s office investigates employee conduct after inmate deaths.

Snohomish County attorneys received the claim on Tuesday. They still were reviewing it and could not comment, said Jason Cummings, the chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney.

Thirteen inmates died at the jail between 2010 and 2014. The sheriff’s office reports no deaths there since Sept. 29, 2014. In that most recent case, a 33-year-old woman hanged herself within a week of Mowan’s death.

Snow also represented the family of Michael Saffioti, who died in the jail in 2012, at the age of 22. He suffered from asthma and severe allergies.

The Saffioti case was settled last year when the county agreed to pay $2.4 million. Another jail death from 2011, where a young woman died slowly from an untreated lung infection, resulted in a $1.3 million settlement.

The county in October also received a claim for damages on behalf of Lindsay M. Kronberger, a 24-year-old woman who died at the jail in January 2014. She succumbed to heart problems, dehydration and opiate withdrawal, officials said. That claim seeks up to $10 million. It alleges that Kronberger did not receive proper medical attention and monitoring.

Since the Saffioti settlement, Snow has reviewed five other inmate death investigations at the county jail, including Mowan’s, she said. She believes Mowan’s civil rights were violated and that corrections staff should face more consequences after inmates die in their care.

Mowan suffered from psychogenic polydipsia, meaning she had a psychiatric disorder that caused her to drink too much water, according to the claim. That and heart disease were contributing factors in her death from water intoxication and sodium imbalances, according to the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

Sheriff Ty Trenary, who oversees the jail, has publicly questioned why Mowan was booked. Trenary became sheriff in 2012. For years, he has led reforms at the jail targeting overcrowding and insufficient medical care. Both have been factors in multiple inmate deaths. Trenary also created booking restrictions for people living with severe medical and mental-health issues. Historically, those people are some of the most vulnerable inmates.

Before her death, Mowan was living in Compass Health mental health housing in Everett and was well-known to Everett police. They booked her into jail after she allegedly slapped a nurse at a triage center in Everett. The center was established to help steer people in mental health crises away from the criminal justice system.

About a month before her death she was in the jail on another matter. She reportedly drank too much water then, too. She went into a brief coma and required hospitalization.

When Mowan was booked again in September, after the alleged assault at the triage center, she made clear to jail staff that she had a mental-health issue with water, the claim states.

The claim alleges that corrections staff were negligent in allowing Mowan to be booked and housed without proper supervision. The sheriff’s office has said that she was being checked on frequently. The claim says that the lawyers reviewed surveillance video that showed less observation than was needed or described.

The claim accuses the sheriff’s office of “laziness and a deliberate disregard and indifference to the serious mental and medical health needs of the inmates who were housed there.”

Brewe Layman, the Everett law firm working on the Kronberger claim, also represents the family of Bill Williams, a mentally ill man who died of a heart attack in the jail in 2012 after being shocked twice with an electric stun gun. A lawsuit was filed in September in the Williams case.

Mowan had a good childhood and adolescence before her illness manifested, Snow said. She had a sister and two brothers who loved her and kept in touch with her and they are suffering from the loss.

“They’re just a wonderful family to work with and they are very realistic about Marilyn’s illness,” Snow said, “but they also care about her very deeply and this hurts them very deeply to hear the facts of what happened.”

In 2014 Mowan’s sister wrote a letter to The Herald saying that Mowan should have been hospitalized, not jailed, for her behaviors, which were symptoms of a mental-health crisis.

“She was crying for help. She never got it,” the letter states.

Reporter Noah Haglund contributed to this story.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

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