Uncertainty over how long inmate was dead in cell

MONROE — Exactly when prison inmate Jerry L. Jamison died of natural causes in September remains a mystery.

The television in his Washington State Reformatory cell was turned off at 10:28 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19. He was found at 11:47 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21. That means he died some time within a 37 hour and 19 minute time frame.*

Although several checks were made, apparently no one detected the Everett man, 48, had died.

At one point on that Saturday, a corrections officer went into Jamison’s cell and placed mail on his legs at the foot of his bed, records show.

His body was cold and rigid when corrections officers at the Monroe prison determined he was dead in his bed Sept. 21. They tried CPR.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy but couldn’t pinpoint a time of death. It found that he died from “dilated cardiomyopathy,” a progressive disease in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged and can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

State prison officials investigated the circumstances surrounding Jamison’s death, trying to determine why it wasn’t discovered sooner. Prison officials released the report Monday.

Investigators found several routine checks were made, but staff assumed Jamison was sleeping.

The internal review also raised concerns about discrepancies between log book documentation claiming “tier checks” had been made and video footage suggesting otherwise. There also was an issue because paperwork documenting inmate counts had not been retained for 30 days, a procedure outlined in a prison memo.

Monroe Corrections Complex Superintendent Rob Herzog said there will be a separate investigation to try to determine why the video record appears to contradict officer accounts of checks being made. He said he won’t speculate on the discrepancies or the potential for discipline until all facts are known.

Prison officials also will be re-examining how they check on inmates, said Chad Lewis, a state Department of Corrections spokesman.

Department of Corrections policy and operating procedures at Monroe says corrections officers “must be sure they are counting living, breathing flesh,” according to the review released Monday.

In practice, that can be a tricky proposition when inmates are in their beds trying to sleep, state corrections officials said.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Lewis said.

If an officer wakes an inmate while trying to check on his welfare, the inmate can claim harassment or maybe misuse of force. “But you also have to ensure they are safe,” Lewis said.

Monroe prison staff will discuss how best to make “the living breathing flesh checks” in January, Herzog said.

The head of security for the Department of Corrections also is considering requiring a standing count of inmates at least once every 24 hours, Lewis said.

Jamison, who was serving time for drug crimes and eluding police, was in his bed in the reformatory’s third tier when he was found.

He’d gone to dinner around 5 p.m. Sept. 19 and then attended choir in the prison chapel until about 8:30 p.m.

Shortly before 5 p.m. on Sept. 20, an inmate stopped by Jamison’s cell, shook his bedding and tried to speak with him before going to dinner. The inmate figured Jamison was sleeping, records show.

The investigation also noted missing paperwork related to cell inspections.

“There is no documentation to support that the cell inspections were completed during the week of Sept. 15-21, 2013,” the report said. “Had inspections been completed, staff would have directly interacted with Offender Jamison.”

A doctor reviewing records said Jamison was being treated for a diagnosed medical condition and found the prison’s treatment plan to be appropriate.

“Mr. Jamison’s death had nothing to do with staff action or inaction,” Lewis said. “He died quietly in his cell.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

Correction, Dec. 31, 2013: The days of the week involved were incorrect in an earlier version of this article.

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