Family holds vigil for man who died in Island County Jail

COUPEVILLE — It has been six months since Keaton Farris died inside the Island County Jail.

His parents miss their only son’s bear hugs and goofy sense of humor. His sisters, Mia and Vivian, miss his friendship. He was the DJ at their elementary school fall festival two years ago and was gifting them his beloved “Calvin and Hobbs” collection.

His family and friends gathered Wednesday outside the Island County Jail to remember Farris and to continue demanding changes at the lockup.

“We know we can’t get him back. We hope and pray we can make a difference,” said Farris’ grandmother, Merry Pickering.

Farris, 25, was found dead at 12:40 a.m. April 8. The coroner estimated that the Lopez Island native died at least seven hours earlier from dehydration and malnutrition.

Island County corrections officers had shut off the water to his cell after he flooded the toilet with a pillow. They failed to do hourly checks even though he didn’t have access to water, according to records.

Farris’ fluid intake was at best 185 ounces of water — less than a quarter of the amount considered minimum for survival.

The young man’s aunt, Tamara Fralic, said she called the jail repeatedly to check on him and corrections officers told her he was fine.

“If only we’d been allowed to see him we would have known how sick he was,” Pickering said. “Isolating people from love is cruel.”

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown on Wednesday released a report prepared by a consultant hired to inspect the jail’s operations. Brown said the consultant “had full access to every aspect of the jail.” The report made numerous recommendations. Brown said his staff already have made some of the changes, including adding more medical and mental health staff.

“Ensuring that inmates receive appropriate and timely medical and mental health care is top priority,” Brown said.

Records showed that Farris received no medical treatment during the two weeks he was locked up in Coupeville. A nurse visited him the day before he died but the door to his cell was never opened and she didn’t have any hands-on contact with him.

Farris was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2014. Records indicate that he was suffering from a mental health crisis when he was picked up in Lynnwood on March 20.

Farris was jailed because he had a warrant for his arrest out of San Juan County. He had missed his arraignment that day. San Juan County prosecutors alleged that Farris forged a $355 check in January.

He was moved to three different jails before he was booked in Island County. San Juan County contracts for jail services there.

Two Island County corrections officers resigned after an investigation revealed they had falsified records to make it appear that they had checked on Farris when they had not. The jail chief also resigned and a lieutenant was fired. The jail nurse who saw Farris left while being investigated by Island County Public Health.

The Whatcom County prosecuting attorney agreed to review the case for possible criminal charges. Meanwhile, Farris’ parents filed a claim with the Island County, alleging that their son was neglected and denied basic needs.

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

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