Island County prosecutor recuses himself in jail-death case

COUPEVILLE — Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks has decided somebody else should decide whether criminal charges are appropriate in connection with the April dehydration death of an inmate in the county jail.

Banks originally said he should make the decision himself because voters had elected him to do that job. But after meeting with Keaton Farris’ father and talking with other prosecutors, Banks said he has changed his mind.

Whatcom County’s prosecutor has agreed to take the case and make the decision.

“The effectiveness of the entire criminal justice system depends heavily on the public’s confidence that decisions are made free from any bias,” Banks said in a press release. “As much as I think I have a duty to handle this case on behalf of the people of Island County, and as much as I believe I could do so free from bias, I now acknowledge that it would be wrong for me to do so.”

Farris, 25, lived with bipolar disorder. An autopsy showed he died of dehydration and malnutrition after the water was shut off to his jail cell. An investigation by the Island County Sheriff’s Office found corrections deputies hadn’t regularly checked on Farris and allegedly falsified logs after he died.

The FBI is investigating. Farris’ family also has filed a claim for damages, a step that often is a precursor to a lawsuit.

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