Island County sheriff details reforms planned at jail after inmate’s death

COUPEVILLE — Island County Sheriff Mark Brown detailed Thursday the changes he’s making to the way mentally ill inmates will be cared for at the jail, including daily assessments by medical staff and record sharing.

Brown also said he is in the final stages of hiring an outside corrections expert to review jail operations.

The changes were implemented after an investigation determined that Keaton Farris died April 7 in the Coupeville lockup from dehydration and malnutrition. Farris, 25, lived with bipolar disorder. Corrections officers had shut off the water to stop him from flooding his cell. He received a fraction of the water necessary to survive. Records also show corrections officers failed to check on him hourly.

Two officers, who reportedly falsified records, have resigned and two others have been put on leave. Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks is reviewing the case for possible criminal charges.

Brown said Thursday that “based on the findings in the investigation, along with input from local health care professionals and jail staff, we have instituted changes to our policies and procedures to make sure our inmates are safe and their medical issues are immediately and thoroughly addressed.”

The reforms include a review of the jail’s mental health services by Island County Human Services Division. The Island County Health Department also will review the medical care provided at the jail.

A mental health professional will assess inmates daily and have direct contact with those who express or exhibit symptoms of mental illness. Those interactions must be documented in the inmate’s file. There also will be mental health and medical screenings. Corrections officers must have more frequent contact with inmates held in safety cells.

The officers won’t need authorization to send someone to Whidbey General Hospital if they are concerned about the inmate’s health.

Brown also said all medical records received by the corrections department or generated in jail will be copied and forwarded with inmates if they are moved to another jail or to a mental health facility. Farris had been in three different jails before being housed in the Island County Jail.

“Inmate health takes priority over other issues and corrections officers can call the jail administrator 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Brown said.

He also has ordered equipment that will allow saving video that is now not retained from 16 jail surveillance cameras. He also wants to install 16 additional cameras.

Farris’ parents were joined by more than 200 people outside the jail Sunday. They called for immediate reforms to prevent any further deaths.

Farris was being held for a mental health evaluation to determine if he was able to assist with his own defense on a San Juan County theft charge. He’d been jailed there about two weeks. He was found dead at 12:40 a.m. April 8. His time of death was estimated at roughly two hours before.

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

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