Island County prosecutor reviews dehydration death at jail

COUPEVILLE — Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks is reviewing the April dehydration death of an inmate in the county jail to determine whether to file criminal charges.

Keaton Farris, 25, lived with bipolar disorder. He died of dehydration and malnutrition after the water was shut off to his cell. An internal investigation by the Island County Sheriff’s Office determined that corrections deputies hadn’t been checking on Farris as needed.

Detectives also alleged that the deputies, who later resigned, falsified logs after Farris died to make it appear as if they’d been monitoring him.

In a news release issued Wednesday, Banks asked the community for time so he can review the documents, ask additional questions and make a careful decision.

“The purpose of my review is to determine whether any crimes have been committed by any persons connected to his (Farris’) care,” he said.

Banks said he has heard from many people calling for charges to be filed immediately.

“To do so now would violate the principles of our criminal justice system, which require a careful and comprehensive review in a case such as this,” Banks said.

Farris, of Lopez Island, was bounced around jails in the region before being brought to Coupeville on March 26. He was being held for a case out of San Juan County Superior Court involving a stolen check.

Lawyers representing his family have called the death “unconscionable” and “completely preventable.”

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, whose agency runs the small jail, last week apologized publicly for the death. The chief deputy in the jail was suspended for 30 days without pay, and a lieutenant was placed on leave. A review of jail operations is planned by an outside consultant.

“Changes are already being made to ensure that every inmate is safe and inmate medical needs are properly addressed,” Brown said in a news release issued Sunday, when Farris’ friends and family protested outside the jail.

Before his death, Farris was awaiting a mental health evaluation to determine if he was able to assist his defense attorneys. Corrections officers shut off water to his cell after he plugged the toilet with his pillow to cause flooding, documents show.

Water or juice was supposed to be offered to him hourly. Instead, detectives found that his fluid intake was less than a quarter the amount considered minimal for survival.

Banks said he received the full investigation on Monday. It includes hundreds of pages, audio recordings, surveillance video and electronic data. Additional investigation, including interviews, may be necessary, he said.

He expects his review to include the consultant’s report when it is completed. He declined to give a timeline on a charging decision.

“At this time, it would be premature to make such a determination,” he said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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