Snohomish County settles jail death lawsuit for $2.4 million

EVERETT — Snohomish County authorized a settlement Monday with the family of Michael Saffioti, a young Mukilteo man who died at the county jail three years ago.

County officials said they were paying $620,000 to end the case.

An attorney for parents Rosemary and Giovanni Saffioti called the county’s figure misleading. The total amount of the settlement is four times higher.

“There was a global settlement discussed of $2.4 million,” said attorney Cheryl Snow of Seattle. “The plaintiffs are concerned about the gross misrepresentation of the amount that’s claimed to be paid by Snohomish County and its insurers.”

Defendants in the case included the county, individual corrections employees and a food services provider. County deputy prosecutors confirmed the settlement total that Snow cited, saying most of the amount is being covered by insurance carriers.

The settlement stems from a lawsuit that Rosemary Saffioti filed in Superior Court in 2014 alleging her son’s death was the result of deliberate indifference among some jail staff, among other problems. The case was later moved to federal court.

“The death of Mr. Saffioti was a tragedy,” Sheriff Ty Trenary said Monday in a prepared statement. “To own up for our mistakes and to cover litigation costs, the county has paid $620,000 in this settlement.”

The County Council voted to authorize the legal agreement at the end of its regular meeting on Monday.

Saffioti was 22 years old when he turned himself in on a Lynnwood misdemeanor marijuana possession warrant on July 2, 2012. He was a Lynnwood prisoner, but county jail officials agreed to detain him because the city lockup was unable to adequately address his medical issues.

Saffioti was taking a number of medications, suffered from asthma and was severely allergic to dairy products, according to court papers. He collapsed after eating breakfast a few hours after he was booked into the county jail.

Prosecutors reviewed the case, but decided against filing criminal charges against any jail employees.

The family’s lawsuit details allegations of multiple ways jail officials knew, or should have known, that Saffioti risked death from anaphylactic shock. It said that several jail employees, including a corrections officer and four jail nurses, ignored her son’s medical needs when he began to suffer an apparent allergic reaction.

The complaint references email from a supervisor raising questions about the quality of care provided by jail nurses. It also recounts findings from outside corrections experts, including the National Institute of Corrections, that confirmed substandard medical care for inmates.

Executive John Lovick was sheriff at the time Saffioti died.

Since taking over as sheriff in mid-2013, Trenary has overseen a number of improvements involving the medical housing unit, booking procedures and more. The sheriff also has taken steps to prevent inmates with serious health conditions from being booked for non-violent misdemeanors.

Some of those reforms were spelled out in a settlement the county reached last year over a different wrongful death at the jail. The county agreed to pay $1.3 million to resolve a damage claim filed on behalf of Lyndsey Lason. The 27-year-old died slowly of a lung infection in 2011. Most of the settlement went to pay to meet the needs of her son.

A fight for access to records about Saffioti’s death also resulted in a separate settlement last year.

Rosemary Saffioti agreed to a $95,000 payment from the county to settle the case stemming from her attorneys’ search for jail-security footage from the morning the young man collapsed and died. They filed public records requests for copies of the video, but were initially told it didn’t exist. They pressed again for disclosure after learning that the tapes were referenced in the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office death investigation. The lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court ultimately got the jail security footage they were seeking.

A more recent public records case at the jail resulted in a $600,000 settlement for a corrections deputy.

Charles Carrell alleged that the sheriff’s office did not supply him any records for four years after receiving his request in 2010. He also accused the sheriff’s office of bungling deadlines and otherwise violating state public records laws. The case was settled June 30. Trenary said he’s since made changes in the jail’s public disclosure proceedures.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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