After investigation, Lynnwood officers disciplined in jail suicide

Two custody officers “failed to perform their duties and violated public trust,” the police department wrote in a news release.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe)

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe)

LYNNWOOD — Two Lynnwood custody officers were disciplined after the July 2021 suicide of a woman at the Lynnwood Jail.

An internal investigation report released Friday afternoon found officers repeatedly broke department policy in the hours before Tirhas Tesfatsion’s death. Lynnwood jail policy requires safety checks of each inmate every 60 minutes. But those checks were frequently late in the 36 hours that Tesfatsion spent in the jail in July.

She was booked July 12 for investigation of driving under the influence. She was 47.

Between about noon and 3 p.m. July 13, no one checked on Tesfatsion, according to the investigation. She likely killed herself around 2 p.m. A Kirkland police investigation shortly after her death found the same.

The internal investigation, closed in October, found two custody officers “failed to perform their duties and violated public trust,” the department wrote in a news release Friday. Another resigned after Tesfatsion’s death.

The officers were disciplined Wednesday.

One of the officers, who started as a cadet in 2006, received an unpaid suspension for 180 hours, or 15 shifts. In a memo, Police Chief Jim Nelson noted he was considering firing the employee due to his actions the day Tesfatsion died. But after a hearing with the officer, who reportedly expressed regret and took responsibility for what happened, Nelson decided the 180-hour suspension was sufficient.

According to internet records, the staffer was watching YouTube and shopping for doorbell cameras in the three-hour lapse when Tesfatsion died. Among the videos he watched were “Mike Tyson slaps Kickboxer in the face!!!” “Elon Musk meets Post Malone” and “4 Extremely Disturbing Interviews With Serial Killers.”

The investigation found the internet use broke department policy because it was lengthy and interfered with job duties.

Another officer, a 17-year veteran, got a 72-hour unpaid suspension — six shifts. The chief also wrote the officer similarly didn’t make excuses and expressed regret in a disciplinary hearing.

Any future violations will mean more significant discipline, Nelson wrote in memos. That could include firing.

Between July 1 and July 11, officers violated the 60-minute inmate safety check policy an average of eight times per day, according to the inquiry. The checks were missed by an average of over half an hour.

Interviews with officers showed there was a lack of communication on employee assignments.

“There appeared to be no concrete system in place that any of the day-shift officers interviewed could identify that would ensure timely inmate safety checks were going to be performed,” the report reads.

In the news release, the department apologized for Tesfatsion’s death and the officers’ actions.

The police department plans to examine its cell check process and re-examine its procedure to determine if someone being booked into jail is suicidal.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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