Dead jail inmate’s parents: ‘No one ever alerted us’

COUPEVILLE — The parents of a man who died of dehydration in the Island County Jail are calling for changes to how people living with mental illness are treated in the criminal justice system.

Farris Keaton’s parents released a statement Friday, a day after Island County Sheriff Mark Brown provided them with a report detailing the investigation into their son’s April 7 death.

Keaton, 25, who had bipolar disorder, was housed at the Island County Jail for two weeks before dying of dehydration and malnutrition.

Records show that he received a fraction of the water he needed to survive. Corrections officers had shut off the water to his cell after he stuffed a pillow in his toilet. The investigation revealed that officers failed to regularly provide Keaton water or check on him, violating department policies.

“We have known since the moment we learned of Keaton’s death that the Island County Jail treated him with utter disregard. The investigation report released June 18 demonstrates worse — in his final days he was treated as subhuman,” his family said.

Farris, who grew up in Coupeville and on Lopez Island, is survived by his father, Fred Farris, mother Tiffany Ferrians and stepmother Susan Farris.

The family is planning a demonstration at 10 a.m. Sunday outside the jail. They have sold more than 200 T-shirts bearing a picture of Farris and one of his favorite quotes: “I see your hate and raise you one love.”

Brown apologized for the man’s death Thursday and blamed it on a “systematic breakdown” at the jail. Two corrections officers who falsified records after Keaton’s death have since resigned. The chief deputy in the jail was suspended Thursday for 30 days without pay, and a lieutenant was placed on leave.

Changes at the jail are under way and Brown also brought in an outside expert to make additional recommendations.

The Island County Board of Commissioners weighed in on Friday, saying the “best way of honoring Keaton and his family is to do everything possible to see that no other family has to endure what the Farris family is experiencing.”

The sheriff’s office investigation revealed that “there were multiple opportunities for intervention from the time he was arrested until his death. We are outraged and we are heartbroken. We are truly sorry for this tragic death,” the commissioners wrote.

Farris was arrested in Lynnwood March 20 for an outstanding warrant. He had failed to show up for an arraignment in San Juan County Superior Court. He was charged there with identity theft after he allegedly cashed a $355 check that didn’t belong to him.

He was moved from the Lynnwood City Jail to the lockups in Snohomish and Skagit counties before being booked into the jail in Coupeville on March 26. San Juan County doesn’t have a jail and contracts with Island County, which operates a 58-bed jail that was built in 1983.

The Island County sheriff’s investigation found that staff at all the jails were aware that Farris was in mental health crisis and his symptoms were becoming more severe. He often was unresponsive and was moved around in a restraint chair. He also tried to kick, bite and hit staff, according to the records. Detectives found that there were numerous requests for mental health evaluations.

“It’s clear from the report he was gravely disabled, yet no one ever alerted us to his physical condition,” his family said.

They repeatedly tried to see him.

“We were assured he was safe and in the best place to obtain the mental health care he needed. The trust we placed in these people will haunt us forever — every day of our lives that we now must live without this beautiful young man who we loved dearly,” they said.

Corrections officials across the country have said that their jails and prisons are not designed to treat inmates in mental health crisis or those undergoing drug or alcohol withdrawals.

Since public psychiatric hospitals closed and social services have been slashed city and county jails have become the de facto mental health and detox facilities in many communities.

“We are committed to justice for Keaton and change in the attitudes toward and treatment of people with mental illness in our ‘justice’ system,” his family said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, hefley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dianahefley.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A log shows the depth of creosote penetration while Department of Natural Resources crews remove ropes from logs removed from Elger Bay, via helicopter, on Monday, May 10, 2021 in Camano Island, Washington. The logs were then shipped to a landfill. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Goodbye, creosote: Cleanup underway at Elger Bay salt marsh

The toxic wood preservative was once ubiquitous in Washington. On Camano, it threatens salmon.

Karen Moore
Civil attorney appointed to be Snohomish County judge

Karen Moore is a former deputy prosecutor. She also has experience as a pro tem judge and commissioner.

Douglas Ryner, 8, brushes twin cows Thelma and Louise at the Evergreen State Fair on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019 in Monroe, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
11 days of glee: Evergreen State Fair ‘Back in the Saddle’

The fair was called off in 2020 due to COVID-19. Organizers are planning a revised event this year.

Man killed by train near Snohomish

The deceased, 45, was hit near Highway 9.

Detectives investigate a shooting near Silver Lake on May 11. (Everett Police Department)
Man dies after confrontation, shooting near Silver Lake

Everett police said he had been yelling and was aggressive toward people on a sidewalk north of the lake.

Eastside Tire and Muffler on Avenue D in Snohomish burns early Wednesday. (Snohomish County Fire District 4) 20210512
Snohomish tire store erupts in flames

The fire at Eastside Tire and Muffler was reported early Wednesday morning.

Crews contracted by the Washington State Department of Transportation for pavement work on the U.S. 2 bridge over the Pilchuck River are set to close one lane this weekend to replace and install expansion joints. (WSDOT)
U.S. 2 Pilchuck River bridge closure and work delayed

The Pilchuck River bridge east of Highway 9 was set to close to one lane this weekend.

Two E. Coli cases in Snohomish County; one child hospitalized

Authorities linked the cases to an outbreak in King County, possibly stemming from fresh produce.

No one hurt in Lake Bosworth house fire

Fire crews arrived at the scene to find a small home engulfed in flames. It was destroyed.

Most Read