Woman found hanging in cell at county jail

EVERETT — For all the reforms made at the Snohomish County Jail, leaders now are looking to beef up suicide prevention practices after another hanging death.

An Everett woman found in her cell Monday is at least the 13th person to die at the jail since 2010. She is the third person to be found hanging in a jail cell since July 26. Two died in the jail and one at a local hospital.

The sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit is investigating the most recent death. That is standard procedure when someone dies in the jail.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday ruled the death a suicide.

Crystal Hollaway, 33, was found in her cell by a corrections officer at 4:49 p.m. Monday. Jail staff attempted CPR, but could not save her, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

The woman had been arrested by Everett police late Saturday night. She was booked into the jail early Sunday morning for investigation of possessing a stolen vehicle and possessing stolen property.

Like all inmates being booked into the Snohomish County Jail, Hollaway was screened for potential medical and mental health issues. Based on her answers, she was not considered at risk, Ireton said.

At a hearing in Everett District Court on Monday, her bail was set at $5,000.

Afterward, she returned to her cell, where she had an argument with her cellmate, Ireton said. At that point, she was moved to a cell by herself. She is believed to have hanged herself shortly afterward.

Her death is the third in the jail this month.

On Sept. 23, a 62-year-old Everett woman with a history of mental health issues died. Her cause of death remains under investigation but was believed to be the result of a medical problem. The woman collapsed in an observation cell.

On Sept. 9, a Sultan man, 19, was found dead in his cell after hanging himself.

Most of the 13 deaths in the jail since 2010 involved inmates with serious health problems, often linked to longtime drug and alcohol abuse.

“We will go back and look at what are the best practices for suicide prevention in the jail,” Ireton said.

Nationally, suicides and heart disease account for more than half of all jail deaths, said Margaret Noonan, a federal Department of Justice statistician.

Most jails with more than 500 inmates will have at least one death a year, and Snohomish County’s fatality numbers are not unusual for a larger jail, she said. Jail suicides are most common during the first week of someone’s stay, often during the first three days.

Even inmates who are thoroughly screened for medical and mental issues can appear healthy, sober and sound when they actually aren’t, Noonan said. About 10 percent of inmate deaths involve a drug or alcohol overdose. Inmates are not always honest about their substance abuse because they’re worried about getting into further trouble, she said.

Unlike prisons, jails generally deal with younger people who are more likely wrestling with recent drug use.

“They have to serve the inmates who come through their door. You take what you get,” she said.

Since 2000, federal law requires jails and prisons to report in-custody deaths to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The bureau doesn’t release inmate death numbers below the state level, as there are too few cases by county or city to draw conclusions, Noonan said. “We can’t really drill down beyond that because then it just becomes statistically meaningless,” she said.

The limited use of the data also encourages jails to self-report deaths. Many jail administrators are reluctant to share that information publicly. In that sense, Snohomish County’s transparency has often pushed the local jail into the harsh glare of the spotlight without any comparison to other, similar-sized jails, Sheriff Ty Trenary said last week.

Three jail deaths here drew widespread scrutiny in recent years.

In one case a young woman died of an untreated lung infection. In another, a young man collapsed from an apparent allergic reaction to food. In the third case, a mentally ill man died in a struggle with corrections officers after being shocked, twice, with a stun gun.

In the last two years, the sheriff’s office has taken a number of steps to reduce the risk of jail deaths.

It hired a doctor and increased medical staffing. It reduced its average daily population to about 1,000 people a day. It added electronic medical records and installed airport-style screening during bookings to detect drugs and other contraband.

In Snohomish County, the booking policies and procedures are 16 pages long, in addition to a four-page initial medical evaluation form.

Earlier this month, additional mental-health questions were added to the screening process in hopes of identifying people at risk of suicide, Ireton said.

The jail is not supposed to accept inmates requiring hospital-level care or 24-hour nursing care. In addition, two “crash carts” of supplies for medical emergencies are kept in the jail, one in booking and one in the medical unit, Ireton said.

The carts include a defibrillator, a prescription drug used to treat opiate overdoses, and epinephrine pens for allergic reactions, among other basic supplies.

Diana Hefley contributed to this story.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

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