FBI reviewing dehydration death at Island County Jail

COUPEVILLE — The FBI is reviewing the investigation into the dehydration death of Keaton Farris at the Island County Jail.

A federal agent recently met with Sheriff Mark Brown to discuss the case. The FBI has yet to request any investigative records, Brown said.

“The FBI routinely gets involved in situations like this to determine if a federal crime was committed,” spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich said. “However, unless it is determined that a federal crime was committed, the FBI will defer any possible criminal prosecution to the local prosecuting attorney’s office.”

Brown said his office will cooperate with federal agents “to get to the root of the problem.”

Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks is reviewing the case. He recently asked for the community’s patience, saying he needs time to thoroughly inspect the records. He also may ask for additional work by police and a report from the independent consultant hired to inspect the jail’s operations.

The consultant is expected to begin work at the Coupeville lockup later this month, Brown said. The jail averages 50 or so inmates a day.

Farris was found dead in his cell around 12:40 a.m. April 8. Island County Coroner Robert Bishop estimated that Farris died seven hours earlier from dehydration and malnutrition.

Corrections officers had turned off the water in his cell after he plugged the toilet with a pillow. Farris, 25, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2014. Records indicate that he was suffering from a mental health crisis when he was brought to the Island County Jail on March 26. He was being held for San Juan County for investigation of cashing a $355 check that didn’t belong to him. Farris was awaiting a bed at Western State Hospital.

The investigation, conducted by Island County sheriff’s detective Ed Wallace, revealed that corrections officers didn’t regularly check on Farris. He received only a fraction of the water he needed to survive.

Two corrections officers resigned after the investigation revealed they had falsified records to make it appear that they had checked on Farris when they had not.

Brown suspended De Dennis, the jail chief, who then retired on July 2. Lt. Pam McCarty, a supervisor, was put on leave and has since been fired, Brown said.

Nancy Barker, the jail nurse, remains on leave pending an investigation by Island County Public Health. Barker was on vacation when Farris was brought to the jail. She didn’t attempt to see him until the day before he died.

Farris mumbled something about needing a medical professional. She did not go into Farris’ cell to examine him. She told the detective she didn’t ask to have the door opened because she had heard staff talking about Farris being uncooperative, records show.

The state’s Nursing Commission has not launched an investigation at this point.

Brown has initiated some changes at the jail since Farris’ death, including medical and mental health screenings for inmates.

Farris’ parents were joined by more than 200 people outside the jail last month. They called for immediate reforms to prevent any further deaths. Family and friends continue to take shifts outside the jail.

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

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