Keaton Farris was the second person to die in the Island County Jail in 18 months and the third in nine years.
Critics have pointed to the other deaths as evidence of ongoing and widespread problems at the jail.
“I think they are linked,” said Becky Spraitzar, a North Whidbey resident who has been concerned about the jail since Gregory McBride died there on Jan. 26, 2014.
“I think if the sheriff did a thorough investigation when McBride died he would have known there were problems. It should have been fixed.”
Law-and-justice officials, however, are quick to distinguish between the cases.
No problems with jail operations or policies were identified following McBride’s death, according to Undersheriff Kelly Mauck.
That’s in stark contrast to a detective’s recent report on Farris’ April 8 death, which described a long series of institutional and staff failures in the days before he succumbed to dehydration.
McBride, 56, died en route to Whidbey General Hospital from the jail Jan. 26, 2014, according to Island County Coroner Robert Bishop. McBride was being held in jail for a driving without a license charge.
While Bishop initially ruled that the manner of death was natural and the cause cirrhosis of the liver, he changed it after the toxicology report came back.
The tests showed “acute methamphetamine intoxication,” he said. As a result, the cause of death for McBride was amended to cirrhosis of the liver with meth intoxication as a significant contributing factor.
He changed the manner of death from natural to accidental, he said.
Bishop, who ruled that Farris died from dehydration, also doesn’t see a comparison with the McBride case beyond the place of death and their need for medical help.
“They have similarities, but they have striking differences,” he said.
McBride had a life-long battle with substance abuse and had serious pre-existing medical conditions, according to his friends and court records. He self-reported that he used heroin prior to going to jail.
Bishop explained that there were three basic ways in which McBride could have had meth in his system after four days in jail.
He could have had it in his system before coming to the jail and his failing liver hadn’t removed the intoxicant; he could have snuck it into the jail with him and used it there; or he could have gotten it at the jail and used it, according to the coroner.
McBride was held in a solitary room during his incarceration, so it seemed unlikely he could have obtained meth from someone else in the jail, he said.
McBride appeared in Island County District Court Jan. 22, 2014 on the driving with license suspended case and another case in which a warrant had been issued.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said it is unusual for deputy prosecutors to request bail on licenses suspended charges, but in this case McBride had a history of failing to appear to court dates.
The judge approved the $10,000 bail to ensure he would come to subsequent hearings.
Mauck said jail staff followed policies and had been checking on McBride regularly because he had fallen sick in the jail; previous reports indicated he was suffering from diarrhea, among other issues.
A nurse screened him within two hour of entering the jail; she found that he had health concerns, so he was placed in a cell by himself and checked on regularly, Mauck said.
He was evaluated by the jail’s physician assistant on the Jan 24.
“He was under the care of jail medical staff,” Mauck said. “There were pro-active moves by the jail staff to ensure he received that care.”
Nevertheless, jail staff found him unresponsive in his cell and he died before arriving at the hospital.
In July 2006, Freeland resident Stephen Peters, 57, died in the padded cell of the jail. Mike Hawley was sheriff at the time; De Dennis was the jail supervisor.
Peters died three days after he was arrested for running over then-deputy Rick Norrie’s toes and injuring Norrie’s knee, as well as driving drunk, according to court records.
Peters refused to drink water or let a nurse take his blood pressure on the morning of the day he died; a staff member checked on him about 50 minutes before he was found dead, according to the News-Times story about his death.
Bishop ruled that the manner of death was natural and the cause was cardiac arrhythmia. He said Peters had a bad heart and as well as a bad liver from chronic alcoholism.
In addition to the deaths, two former inmates have filed unsuccessful federal lawsuits against the jail in the last eight years.
In 2007, Richard Pallaske filed a civil rights complaint against the jail, claiming that the lack of medical treatment in the jail left him blind in one eye. He asked for $3 million in damages.
A judge dismissed the case.
In 2012, Laura Nastase also filed a civil rights complaint, claiming that only men were allowed to be “inmate workers” in the jail or have “church” in the jail library.
“It is only fair that we have the same privileges as men,” she wrote in her pro se complaint.
She also complained about the lack of health care, saying she was prescribed medication without an exam and her request to see a psychiatrist was refused.
The judge dismissed the case when she did not follow up with proper paperwork.
The overall mortality rate in local jails was 128 deaths per 100,000 inmates in 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.