FBI to review details of inmate’s death at Island County jail

Keaton Farris

The FBI is reviewing the investigation into an inmate’s dehydration death at the Island County jail.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said he met with an FBI agent from the Bellingham office last Thursday to discuss the death of 25-year-old Keaton Farris.

“I told her I would cooperate fully and do whatever I can to help,” he said, adding that he welcomes an independent review of the tragedy.

He said the agent is going to evaluate Detective Ed Wallace’s report on the series of failures in the jail that led to the April 7 death of Farris.

Ayn Dietrich-Williams, a media coordinator for the FBI, said the agency routinely gets involved in cases such as this to determine if a federal crime was committed.

“Unless it is determined that a federal crime was committed, the FBI will defer any possible criminal prosecution to the local prosecuting attorney’s office,” she wrote in an email.

Likewise, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he is conducting a complete review of the case in order to determine if any crimes were committed.

While he said many people have called on him to file charges immediately, he said the process will take time and the outcome at this point is unclear.

“Decisions to prosecute must be made based upon the admissible evidence and a thorough analysis of the law and procedures that govern our criminal courts,” he said.

The complete investigation includes hundreds of pages of supporting documentation as well as video and other evidence. Banks said he may ask detectives to do additional investigation.

In addition, Banks said he’ll want to see the report from an independent expert the sheriff is bringing in to conduct a comprehensive review of the jail and its policies.

He said that is likely to be at least a couple of months away.

Coupeville resident Fred Farris, Keaton’s father, said he’s pleased to hear about the FBI’s involvement and hopes it brings about criminal charges.

“I think the more people who look at it the better,” he said.

Fred Farris said he also hopes to meet with Banks to share some information the prosecutor may not have. He said he continually hears from people who have stories about problems at the jail, both systemic failures and unprofessional conduct by jail personnel.

Fred Farris and other family members organized a large protest through Coupeville after Wallace’s report was released. Every day since then, volunteers have continued protesting in front of the jail.

Friends and family marched for Keaton Farris during a Fourth of July parade on Lopez Island, where the young man lived for most of his life. Fred Farrow said they held a “Justice for All” banner and handed out water bottles.

Keaton Farris also attended school in Coupeville.

Fred Farris said his son’s death was nothing short of murder perpetrated by the people who were supposed to be keeping him safe.

“I don’t know what else it could be, honestly,” he said.

“If they did this to a dog, it would be a felony crime.”

Wallace’s 51-page report outlines a complicated series of failures that began when Keaton Farris was picked up by Lynnwood police March 20 on a check-fraud warrant out of San Juan County. He was in the midst of a mental health crisis and had sought medical help earlier that day.

After being transferred to several different jails, he ended up alone in a “safety cell” at Island County jail.

The jailers turned off water in his cell for days after he put a pillow in the toilet at one point and later flooded his cell. He was given water during his meals, but Wallace calculated that it was only a fraction of what was necessary to survive.

The staff did not check on him as often as protocol dictated. Jail logs didn’t include necessary information and observations; the supervisors didn’t follow policy by checking the logs, Wallace wrote.

Medical staff wasn’t called to examine Farris until the day before he died. The nurse only talked to him briefly through the “feed slot” in the cell door and didn’t relay any concerns she might have to jail staff.

The jail staff was supposed to check on Keaton Farris hourly.

The last time a corrections deputy confirmed that he was alive was 5:30 p.m. on April 7. A corrections deputy tapped on his cell at 8:30 p.m. but didn’t get a response; Wallace wrote that he was likely dead at that point.

Corrections deputies discovered that Keaton Farris was dead at 12:30 a.m. on April 8.

Two corrections deputies falsified their logs after the death was discovered, Wallace wrote.

Both men resigned.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown fired the supervising lieutenant at the jail. Chief De Dennis, the jail administrator, resigned.

The jail nurse, an Island County Health Department employee, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.