Prosecutor declines to charge staff in Lynnwood jail death

Tirhas Tesfatsion died July 13. An inquiry found officers had not checked on her for almost three hours.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe)

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe)

LYNNWOOD — The Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office declined to pursue criminal charges in the death of a Lynnwood woman in the city jail in July.

Tirhas Tesfatsion, 47, died just over 36 hours after being booked into the Lynnwood Jail for investigation of driving under the influence, a misdemeanor.

No custody officers had contact with Tesfatsion for almost three hours before she died, a Kirkland police investigation found. Lynnwood police policy requires safety checks on inmates at least once every 60 minutes.

The nearly 200-page Kirkland report “establishes, tragically but conclusively, that Ms. Tesfatsion died by suicide and that neither the standard of criminal recklessness or criminal negligence can be met under the facts of the law,” Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell concluded in a memo obtained Friday by The Daily Herald.

Before 2 p.m. July 13, Tesfatsion grabbed her jail outfit and tied it around her neck while sitting on one of the cell’s bunks, according to a Kirkland police analysis of surveillance footage. She then moved around the cell, testing places to attach the uniform. Kirkland police noted it was difficult to see what she was doing with the clothing because Tesfatsion had a blanket draped over her body.

Then she grabbed one of the cell’s plastic chairs and walked into the bathroom with the clothing around her neck, the video shows.

“She did not re-emerge from the bathroom,” Kirkland police wrote in their report.

An hour later, at about 3 p.m., a custody officer entered the cell to give Tesfatsion her medication. The officer quickly went to the bathroom and found Tesfatsion.

Officers did chest compressions and used a defibrillator. Emergency responders arrived within four minutes, according to the Kirkland report. They moved her from the bathroom to a more open spot in the cell.

At a booking screening July 12, Tesfatsion reported she had never attempted suicide and said she was not thinking about killing herself, according to officers. However, she said she had mental health issues, specifically noting depression. She noted she was taking antidepressants.

The results of the Kirkland investigation, conducted at the request of Lynnwood police, were forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for review.

Tesfatsion’s family argued at the time that the inquiry by another police agency wasn’t independent enough. They urged the city to ask the state Attorney General’s Office for another investigation. But that office declined, citing a lack of jurisdiction, among other legal issues.

The family’s attorney, James Bible, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

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

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