Former Island County corrections officer Mark Moffit cries as he apologizes to the family of Keaton Farris during sentencing at the Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham on Tuesday. Farris died of dehydration and malnutrition in the Island County Jail in 2015. Moffit and fellow former corrections officer David Lind were sentenced for forging their safety logs to make it seem like they’d been checking on Farris more often than they did. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Former Island County corrections officer Mark Moffit cries as he apologizes to the family of Keaton Farris during sentencing at the Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham on Tuesday. Farris died of dehydration and malnutrition in the Island County Jail in 2015. Moffit and fellow former corrections officer David Lind were sentenced for forging their safety logs to make it seem like they’d been checking on Farris more often than they did. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Former jail guards sentenced in dehydration death of inmate

During a mental health crisis in 2015, Keaton Farris, 25, wasted away in the Island County Jail.

BELLINGHAM — Keaton Farris was never convicted of forging the $355 check that landed him in the Island County Jail. But he did receive a death sentence.

Farris had been behind bars for 18 days when he succumbed to dehydration — naked, alone, on the floor of cell H-2 in April 2015. He was in the midst of a mental health crisis. He was 25.

After he flooded his cell twice in a week, the water was shut off to his sink and toilet. According to an Island County sheriff’s detective, Farris was given Dixie cups holding an average of 15 ounces of fluids a day, a quarter of what’s needed to survive.

On Tuesday, two former Island County jail guards were sentenced for forging safety logs to make it seem like they’d been checking on Farris more often than they did.

David Wayne Lind, 55, and Mark Edward Moffit, 61, pleaded guilty to false reporting by a public officer, a gross misdemeanor. They were sentenced to a year in jail with all but three months suspended, a Whatcom County Superior Court judge ruled. Five days must be served behind bars. The remainder can be community service, outside of a jail.

To Fred Farris, the length of the sentence mattered little. Nothing would help Keaton’s father to leave the courthouse a happier person, because nothing can bring back his son.

Keaton grew up on Lopez and Whidbey islands. He was a three-sport athlete at Coupeville High School. In his 20s, he aspired to be a writer. Hundreds of friends attended his funeral. Only a handful knew of his mental illness, his father said. It didn’t define Keaton.

“He was a brilliant young man, full of life, compassionate almost to a fault,” Fred Farris said.

Keaton Farris

Keaton Farris

Keaton’s first manic episode occurred in late 2013. Once he was medicated, it was like he was back to being the young man his family always knew, his father said. About a year later he was charged in San Juan County with forging a check. Keaton missed a court date; a judge issued a felony warrant; and he was arrested in Lynnwood in March 2015. He told police he was off his medication. He was shuffled through the jails in Snohomish and Skagit counties.

Meanwhile, he showed signs of psychosis, according to a report by a mental health provider. After he arrived in Coupeville, he plugged his toilet with a pillow. He rambled to himself, ate a bar of soap and dumped water on his head in his 12 days at the Island County lockup. He flooded his cell again and acted like he was swimming in a half-inch of cold water on the floor. His water was cut off. He’d arrived without medication. Two days later, a nurse finally examined him. She stood outside his door, fearing he might attack her. She asked how he was doing.

“Not good,” Farris answered.

An autopsy later revealed Keaton Farris dropped 20 pounds as he wasted away from dehydration and malnutrition. He was found unresponsive in his cell around 12:40 a.m. April 8, 2015. It had been hours since anyone had looked at him. Jail guards were supposed to be checking him hourly. Security footage showed Lind and Moffit fabricated logs about how often they peered into Keaton Farris’ cell that night.

It’s disturbing to Keaton’s father that no one was charged with anything more than a misdemeanor. He doesn’t believe the jail staff wanted his son to die, but they were in complete control of what happened to him, he said.

“If we were outside of the jail, and we cut off somebody’s access to water, and we were in control of their environment, and we didn’t feed them enough — there’s no question that’s going to be a serious crime,” Fred Farris said.

The court case was moved to Whatcom County because of potential conflicts of interest in Island County. The longtime Whatcom County prosecutor, Dave McEachran, took the case.

The prosecutor couldn’t pin fault on a single person, he said, because so many of the mistakes that led to Farris’ death were systemic.

Keaton Farris

Keaton Farris

“It was many people,” McEachran said in court Tuesday. “It was the whole system that just wasn’t working. … It was a total failure by the entire staff, by people who should have known better.”

The death led to reforms at the 58-bed jail in Coupeville. Mental health professionals must assess inmates daily and document interactions. A new jail chief, Jose Briones, was hired in part because of his expertise with mentally ill inmates.

The jail lieutenant, Pamela McCarty, was fired. Later she was rehired but demoted to corrections officer, after a ruling by an arbitrator. She was awarded 13 months of back pay.

Lind and Moffit resigned.

“There was a callousness from the top down, with respect to following these procedures,” Lind’s defense attorney, Doug Hyldahl, told the judge.

In court, Lind said he was ashamed of what he’d done, but that his actions were part of the culture at the jail at the time.

“I am so, so sorry for everything that happened here,” Lind said. “It’s unbelievable. When I found Mr. Farris deceased, I was stunned, I was shocked, I was in disbelief.”

Tiffany Ferrians (right) hugs Tamara Fralic after two former Island County corrections officers were sentenced on Tuesday at the Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham over the death of Keaton Farris. Ferrians is the mother of Harris. Fralic is Farris’ aunt. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Tiffany Ferrians (right) hugs Tamara Fralic after two former Island County corrections officers were sentenced on Tuesday at the Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham over the death of Keaton Farris. Ferrians is the mother of Harris. Fralic is Farris’ aunt. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Moffit, an honorably discharged U.S. Navy sailor, worked at the jail for 20 years. He broke down as he addressed the judge.

“I agree with Mr. Lind. I was caught in the same trap that he was, in that jail,” he said. He turned to Keaton’s family, in tears. “Most of all I want to apologize the family. To the mother, the father. I can’t even imagine. I accept whatever punishment they give me.”

Fred Farris has had a voice in the reforms at the jail. Yet he fears there will never be real justice for Keaton.

“At this point, if I had any control over this never happening to anybody again,” he said, “I’d do whatever it took to get there.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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