Wrongful-death lawsuit filed in 2011 death at county jail

EVERETT — The family of a former inmate has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Snohomish County Jail, alleging that his medical complaints were ignored until it was too late.

Sid Richard, 52, was serving time for a drunken driving conviction. In March 2011, the Lynnwood man’s health began to fail and he was taken to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, where he died.

In his obituary, his family reported that Richard died of complications of Influenza A H1N3 — a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system — and bacterial pneumonia.

The lawsuit alleges that Richard’s complaints to jail staff “were ignored until he began bleeding from his nose and ears” and that they failed to keep him safe while in custody.

County officials said they can’t discuss the lawsuit.

“We can’t comment on pending litigation,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

Part of the reason the family filed the lawsuit is to learn what led to Richard’s death, said Karl Malling, a Seattle attorney representing the man’s estate.

They have many questions about what happened in the days before he was taken to the hospital, he said.

“By the time he got to the hospital, there was no chance to revive him,” Malling said.

Court records were unclear when Richard was taken to the hospital.

A jail sergeant wrote an email on March 7, 2011 — 15 days before Richard died — saying the inmate “is currently in a drug-induced coma and will be in the hospital for a minimum of five more days.” At the time, corrections staff were required to provide 24-hour bedside supervision. They were seeking a court order to temporarily release Richard from their custody.

Richard was sentenced to a year in jail in August 2011 after pleading guilty to drunken driving. He was clocked driving at more than 100 mph on I-5 near Lynnwood. He had previous convictions for the same offense and acknowledged to the Washington State Patrol trooper who pulled him over that he had a serious drinking problem, court records said.

Medical records that became part of the court file indicate Richard had cirrhosis and a history of hepatitis C.

His former wife urged the judge to spare him jail time because she was concerned about his ailing liver and stress level.

“I see him deteriorate every day, your honor,” she wrote. “I’m not saying he didn’t make a mistake, but it is heavy on my heart to think of him dying in jail.”

Despite those fears, Richard appeared well enough to be approved for a jail work crew on Feb. 1, 2011.

The jail has come under scrutiny in recent years. Ten people have died while in custody since 2010.

The spate of inmate deaths prompted the county last year to ask for a federal review of jail operations. Since then, county officials have been working to improve medical care, increase staffing and reduce the jail’s average inmate population. A full-time doctor was hired, and efforts have been made to beef up nursing coverage.

Two inmate deaths led to major claims against the county. A $1.3 million settlement was reached in April in a damage claim filed on behalf of Lyndsey Lason, 27, who slowly died of a lung infection inside the jail in 2011. Her chest was filled with fluid that eventually collapsed her lungs.

In February, the mother of Michael Saffioti, who died in the jail in July 2012, filed a lawsuit alleging that her son’s death was the result of ingrained problems at the county-run lockup, including deliberate indifference among some of the staff. The Saffioti lawsuit alleges several employees, including a corrections officer and four jail nurses, ignored the Mukilteo man’s medical needs when he began to suffer an apparent allergic reaction after eating breakfast.

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

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