County, family settle over jail inmate’s death for $675,000

Marilyn Mowan’s death was ruled a suicide. Her estate claimed she received insufficient supervision.

EVERETT — Snohomish County has reached a legal settlement with the family of Marilyn Mowan, a woman whose 2014 death at the county jail was earlier linked to drinking a lethal amount of water while locked in her cell.

Mowan lived for years with mental illness. The 62-year-old Everett woman’s death had been ruled a suicide by a former associate medical examiner for the county.

Prosecutors questioned that conclusion, and were prepared to fight a civil lawsuit in federal court alleging that Mowan’s problems had been met with indifference by jail staff. Among other things, county attorneys planned to offer testimony from a doctor who concluded that while the woman likely had consumed a lot of water before she collapsed, it wasn’t enough to cause her death. Instead, the doctor pointed to severe, long-term heart problems.

Attorneys for Mowan’s estate had filed a $5 million claim against the county last year. The $675,000 settlement the county agreed to pay is far less than what it has spent to resolve other recent lawsuits over jail deaths. As part of the agreement, the county admitted no wrongdoing.

The County Council voted 4-0 on Wednesday to authorize the settlement.

Cheryl Snow, an attorney representing Mowan’s family, did not return calls or emails about the resolution.

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 county settled that case in 2015 for $2.4 million. Another jail death from 2011, where a young woman died slowly from an untreated lung infection, ended in a $1.3 million settlement.

Legal papers filed in in U.S. District Court in Seattle this summer showed a wide gulf between the parties and their theories in Mowan’s case. They didn’t even agree on how she died.

Mowan had been diagnosed with chronic mental illness and a psychiatric disorder that caused her to drink too much water. The problem was so severe that she’d been hospitalized during a previous jail stay after she developed water intoxication and a sodium imbalance.

She had been living in Compass Health mental health housing. Her final arrest came after she slapped a nurse at a triage center in Everett, a place set up to steer people in mental health crises away from the criminal justice system.

Police recommended she be charged with third-degree assault, a felony.

Attorneys for Mowan’s family alleged that she’d received insufficient supervision and care at the jail. Their court pleadings described how her abdomen was distended and water poured from her mouth while emergency crews worked to restore her heartbeat after she collapsed in her cell.

They expected testimony from Dr. Stanley Adams, the former county associate medical examiner who earlier ruled Mowan’s death a suicide, with mental illness, heart disease and water intoxication as contributing factors. A former county medical examiner, Dr. Eric Kiesel, was expected to testify that Adams got it right.

In court papers, county prosecutors detailed the efforts jail staff said were made to monitor Mowan behind bars, including placing her on suicide watch and regularly checking on her when she made statements about potentially harming herself.

They also challenged the plaintiff’s claims about the circumstances of the woman’s death.

They were prepared to offer testimony from Dr. William Watts, a longtime Seattle-area physician who has treated patients with problems similar to Mowan’s. He concluded that a heart problem triggered her collapse.

Mowan likely consumed a lot of water before death, but she would have been in a “stuporous semiconscious state” if it was a lethal amount, the doctor opined. Instead, she was seen walking in her cell seven minutes before collapsing.

Judge Thomas Zilly last month turned down the county’s request to toss out the case, ruling there were enough questions over the facts to warrant a trial. He also had directed the parties to be prepared to discuss resolving the case by mediation.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@herald Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - In this photo taken Oct. 2, 2018, semi-automatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee is joining state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to propose limits to magazine capacity and a ban on the sale of assault weapons. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Democrats advance assault weapons ban, new rules for gun buyers

The measures passed a House committee without Republican support. They are part of a broader agenda to curb gun violence.

A person and child watch seagulls on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry in Washington on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Cold weather returning to Western Washington

Nightly temperatures in the 20s with highs in the 30s were expected this weekend. Cold weather shelters will be open.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Marysville State of the City address set for Feb. 1

Mayor Jon Nehring will highlight 2022 accomplishments and look to the future. Questions from the audience will follow.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
A move to require voting and a bicameral chasm on vehicle pursuits

It’s Day 19 and the mood is heating up as the third week of the 2023 legislative session comes to an end.

Lynnwood County Council candidate Joshua Binda is the subject of two complaints with the Public Disclosure Commission. (Josh Binda campaign photo)
Binda fined $1,000 for misuse of campaign contributions

The Lynnwood Council member’s personal use of donor funds was a “serious violation” of campaign law, the state PDC concluded.

Juniper DeCasso, 17, prepares groceries for pickup at the Edmonds Food Bank in Edmonds, Washington on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Scriber Lake High School student Juniper works at the Edmonds Food bank as part of an on-the-job training class that teaches students about career options and goal planning, while also paying them for a part-time internship. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
School program gives Scriber Lake teens class credits — and paychecks

The on-the-job training program offers paid internships and career planning assignments with a real-world feel.

Dr. Robert Carsrud from the 2015 King County Voters Pamphlet. (King County Elections)
State to pay $600K over psychologist’s harassment at Monroe prison

In a federal lawsuit, Tressa Grummer alleged persistent sexual harassment as an intern by her supervisor, Robert Carsrud.

Construction crews work on the Lynnwood Light rail station on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Sound Transit asserts Bellevue-Redmond line won’t delay Lynnwood light rail

Its board approved $6 million to study an East Link “starter line.” Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell said: “Snohomish County wants to ride, too.”

FILE - The sun dial near the Legislative Building is shown under cloudy skies, March 10, 2022, at the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash. An effort to balance what is considered the nation's most regressive state tax code comes before the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, in a case that could overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Justices weigh legality of tax aimed at rebalancing state’s tax code

The state Supreme Court heard arguments about whether to overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s.

Most Read