By Eric Stevick and Diana Hefley Herald Writers
EVERETT — Prosecutors have decided the evidence doesn’t warrant criminal charges against anyone for the July death of a severely allergic and asthmatic Snohomish County Jail inmate who collapsed in his cell after eating breakfast.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe met with the mother of Michael Saffioti on Wednesday afternoon to explain his reasoning.
“I’m not going to file any criminal charges because I don’t believe a crime was committed,” Roe said later.
The decision was made after prosecutors reviewed a death investigation report compiled by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit. The report is more than 400 pages long.
The Saffioti case file was forwarded to the county prosecutor’s office with no criminal referral, sheriff’s officials said Wednesday.
That means the investigation did not turn up evidence that prompted detectives to believe a crime occurred. It was up to prosecutors to decide whether any charges would be filed.
Roe’s staff plans to help the family obtain a copy of the police investigation through state public records law.
“If (the family) brings forth any additional information or wants us to consider other information, we can always reopen the case,” Roe said.
The sheriff’s office now will begin an internal investigation to determine whether policies governing jail operations were followed. That is standard procedure after the prosecuting attorney completes his review of the case.
Rose Saffioti, Michael’s mother, said she is eager to review the sheriff’s investigation. She has for months questioned the appropriateness of the sheriff’s office investigating the death at the jail it operates.
“I’m really disappointed and I made that pretty clear,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting.
Michael Saffioti, 22, of Mukilteo, surrendered to Lynnwood police July 2 on a misdemeanor warrant for marijuana possession. He brought along a bag of medications he needed to control severe food allergies and respiratory problems he had lived with since his early childhood.
Saffioti died July 3 from bronchial asthma, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. Severe allergic reaction to milk products was listed as a contributing factor initially, but Rose Saffioti said after Wednesday’s meeting that fact didn’t appear to have been part of the final report.
“They pretty much discount an allergic reaction,” she said.
Among inmates, Michael 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.
Rose Saffioti has hired Anne Bremner, a renowned Seattle attorney, to help learn more about the circumstances leading up to her son’s death. Bremner said she believes more could have been done to save Michael Saffioti.
“The bottom line is they didn’t get him help and he died,” she said.
“Even if asthma was more of the contributing factor than the food allergies, it is still criminal negligence,” Bremner said.
Since Saffioti’s death, several people who were jail inmates at the time of his death have made statements to his family and attorney about what they saw happen behind bars.
One man told them that Saffioti collapsed in his cell after breakfast, which included oatmeal. He said Saffioti was allowed access to his inhaler after reporting breathing problems. However, the inmate said a corrections officer took the inhaler from Saffioti and accused him of faking when Saffioti continued to press a button in his cell, asking for medical attention.
Another inmate told Bremner that he saw a corrections officer turn off the emergency alarm because he became annoyed with Saffioti’s repeated pleas for help.
A third inmate estimated that medical attention was delayed by 10 minutes.
The death investigation report was not made public Wednesday.
In 2008, Saffioti, then 17, was given an alternative sentence for minor offenses that required out-patient 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.
Bremner said Saffioti was supposed to be in a medical unit at the jail during the July incarceration, but wasn’t.
She said she is eager to review the sheriff’s office investigation.
“This is a search for the truth and that’s what we are doing,” she said.
Eric Stevick: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3446