Mukilteo mother says son’s death in jail was avoidable

EVERETT — Michael Saffioti had a sense of nervous foreboding.

On July 2, he wriggled a silver ring off his forefinger and handed it to his brother, Daniel, as a keepsake before turning himself over to police in Lynnwood, where he had a misdemeanor warrant for being caught with marijuana.

His mother and brother drove him to the station late that morning.

Saffioti, 22, made sure he brought along a bag of medications he needed to control severe food allergies and respiratory problems he had lived with since his early childhood.

Arrangements had been made beforehand with Lynnwood police to transfer him to the Snohomish County Jail, which has a medical unit.

“He was scared,” said his mother, Rose Saffioti. “He said, ‘Mom, I have a bad feeling.’ I said, ‘You are doing the right thing. They are going to take care of you.’ He said, ‘I have a bad feeling that they are not going to take me seriously.’ “

Rose Saffioti tried to assure him that his medical needs would be met and that his stay would be brief. The next morning, she received a call from a doctor at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett informing her that her son was dead.

It’s one of six deaths to occur in the jail since 2010. It’s one of at least two that appear headed toward wrongful death claims against the county.

Saffioti, of Mukilteo, died from bronchial asthma, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. Severe allergic reaction to milk products was listed as a contributing factor.

Rose Saffioti is convinced her son’s death could have been prevented and she has hired prominent Seattle attorney Anne Bremner to press for answers.

There is evidence that at least some were aware of Michael Saffioti’s medical problems from previous jail stays, where accommodations were made for his health problems. Among inmates, he even had a nickname: “Bubble Boy.”

The Nov. 11 death of Lyndsey Lason also could be headed toward legal scrutiny. The Everett woman, 27, who had been booked into the jail on drug and prostitution charges, died there from what was later determined to be a lung infection.

Court papers filed Sept. 13 in a probate case say the primary asset of Lason’s estate “is a potential wrongful death lawsuit, which is being investigated at this time.”

Everett attorney Royce Ferguson said he’s hired a forensic pathologist to explore the circumstances of Lason’s death and is waiting for results.

Rose Saffioti said she has spoken with two men who were in the jail when her son was there.

One was a former classmate who recognized Saffioti in the booking area of the jail, she said. That man had a leg injury and was using crutches. He said he was sent to the medical care unit and assumed Saffioti would be there too because of his medical history. He told Rose Saffioti that he never saw her son there, she said.

The other inmate recognized Saffioti from a stay in jail roughly a year earlier. Rose Saffioti said he told her they had been in the medical unit together the first time and this time they both were in general population.

That former inmate said he believes her son had an allergic reaction to oatmeal he was served for breakfast on July 3 and that his pleas for help were ignored until after he collapsed, Rose Saffioti said.

“My son wouldn’t collapse without trying to get help,” she said. “I am a mom and I am a (registered) nurse. How does that happen?

“My motivation is justice for Michael, policies changed, protocols changed, so that nobody has to go through this whether they have allergies, are diabetic or have cardiac issues,” Rose Saffioti said. “Nothing is going to bring Michael back, but it can affect a change and that’s what Michael would have wanted.”

For now, she must wait for the sheriff’s office to complete its investigation of her son’s death.

She wants to see whether the accounts she has been given from former inmates match the official record.

The investigation is being handled by the sheriff’s office Major Crimes Unit, which is the department’s procedure when someone dies at the jail.

“We are not at a point where we can share information,” Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said. “We have to make sure it is investigated thoroughly. I understand the family wants answers. We do, too. Unfortunately it takes a lot of time.”

To Rose Saffioti, the sheriff’s office investigating a death at a jail it operates raises questions about a potential conflict of interest.

Michael Saffioti had problems with drug abuse in his teens and early 20s. Family and friends said his legal troubles resulted from his medical problems, which caused panic attacks and led to his use of anti-anxiety prescription drugs and marijuana.

Steve Nantz of Mukilteo enjoyed his conversations with Michael Saffioti, who was a childhood friend of his son and getting past some rough patches.

“He was going to be fine,” he said. “He was going to be great.”

At Michael Saffioti’s memorial service, Nantz described a young man with a remarkable breadth of knowledge and a keen appreciation of important ideas.

“He stoically accepted this affliction with humor and poise,” Nantz said. “It was a burden that helped make him the singular, unique, wonderful young man he was and he taught us that our petty concerns and aches and pains and daily grievances are crosses we can bear, as he bore his, with courage and resolve and a commitment to live life to its fullest despite all.”

Michael Saffioti’s allergies were so extreme he would have to ask a girl about what she had eaten before he could kiss her, his mother said.

His health challenges were part of the public record detailing his scrapes with the law.

In 2008, Michael Saffioti, then 17, was given an alternative sentence for minor offenses that required out-patient drug treatment but spared him a six-day term inside a juvenile facility because of his respiratory problems. At the time, a doctor wrote a letter saying his patient had “multiple potential life-threatening chronic illnesses, objectively documented” which required environmental controls unlikely to be found behind bars.

In a later stay at the county jail for marijuana possession, arrangements were made for his food to be separately prepared and wrapped in plastic to avoid trace contaminants, Rose Saffioti said. The precaution earned Saffioti the “Bubble Boy” nickname, and his family appreciated the jail’s willingness to meet his medical needs.

That wasn’t the case this time, Bremner said.

“It’s such an injustice what happened,” Bremner said. “Words can’t describe how outrageous it is.”

“She is a nurse and she does everything right and everything went wrong,” Bremner said. “It was so preventable.”

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