Medical examiner: Woman died by suicide in Lynnwood Jail

An investigation into the 47-year-old woman’s death is expected to wrap up in the coming days.

LYNNWOOD — A 47-year-old woman who died at the Lynnwood city jail last week died by suicide, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office reported Wednesday afternoon.

A custody officer found Tirhas Tesfatsion unresponsive at about 3 p.m. July 13 near the shower of the female detention area in the jail, Lynnwood police Cmdr. Sean Doty said in a news release.

Officers reportedly began trying to save the Lynnwood woman’s life. Medical personnel also arrived and continued life-saving efforts.

Lynnwood police said no other inmates were present when Tesfatsion died. She was housed in an area designed for multiple female inmates, but she was the only one there at the time. The unit has two video cameras, but the shower area is “digitally masked for privacy,” according to Lynnwood police.

On social media, activists accused police of withholding video footage and details of what happened.

The county medical examiner said Wednesday that Tesfatsion died from asphyxia due to ligature hanging. She had been booked into the jail for investigation of a driving offense, just over 36 hours before she died.

As of Wednesday afternoon, an online fundraiser created by Tesfatsion’s family had raised over $10,000.

“Tirhas loved so many and was loved by so many. We ask the community to come together and help us give Tirhas the memorial that she deserves, in honor of her memory,” the family wrote. “This is a tragic loss for our family and prayers are greatly appreciated.”

They called her “the most caring, loving and joyful person to be around.”

The family could not be reached by a Daily Herald reporter.

Lynnwood police asked the Kirkland Police Department to conduct an investigation into the death. That work is ongoing, Kirkland police Sgt. Dave Quiggle said Wednesday. He expected it to conclude in the coming days. Lynnwood originally approached the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, but it declined to investigate since there didn’t appear to be any use of force.

The suicide finding confirmed what Kirkland detectives suspected early in their investigation, the department said.

Lynnwood police immediately gave Kirkland detectives access to reports and video data, Kirkland police said in a press release Wednesday. Kirkland police gave a summary of their early findings to Lynnwood police leadership Tuesday morning.

Once the investigation is concluded, the Kirkland Police Department will submit its report to the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office for review.

“It was important to wait for this initial independent death investigation to be initiated prior to the start of our administrative process, which will examine the time the woman was in custody,” Lynnwood police spokesperson Joanna Small said in a press release. “We will examine in detail whether policy and procedures were followed as we attempt to reconstruct the events leading up to the incident. We have remained in contact with the family, and they will have the opportunity to review the video.”

Small said this is the first in-custody death at the Lynnwood jail since it opened in 1994.

If you or someone you know is thinking about self-harm, help is out there. Call 1-800-273-TALK for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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