FBI tours county jail in wake of inmate’s death

An FBI agent and an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice are touring the Island County Jail today.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said he doesn’t know exactly what the feds are looking for beyond the fact that the tour is related to the dehydration-related death of Keaton Farris in the facility in April of 2015.

Brown met with an FBI agent from the Bellingham office last summer to discuss the death. At the time, an FBI spokesperson said the agency was reviewing the investigation. She said it was routine in cases such as this to see if a federal crime may have been committed.

Farris’ family settled a wrongful-death tort complaint for $4 million last month. The settlement involved Island County and two other counties that held 25-year-old Farris in jail after his arrest. Under the settlement, a jail expert will monitor the implementation of reforms at the jail over the next 18 months.

The Whatcom County prosecutor still hasn’t made a decision on possible criminal charges related to Farris’ death. Attorney Kathy Goater, who represents the family, said she’s been urging the office to come to a resolution, but hasn’t heard anything yet.

The Whatcom County prosecutor didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Goater said she’s aware of the feds’ jail tour, but she also doesn’t know the exact reason. She said it’s likely related to a criminal review or potential civil rights enforcement.

Farris was arrested on a warrant related to a forged check and was transferred from jail to jail before he got to Island County.

According to a sheriff’s office investigation of the death, Farris was both combative and non-responsive with jail staff due to his diagnosed bipolar disorder, but his medication had been lost in another jail.

Prior to Farris’ death, corrections deputies cut off the water to his cell for days because he had flooded his cell. He was given water during his meals but it was only a fraction of what was necessary to survive. The staff did not check on him as often as protocol dictated. The logs didn’t include necessary information and observations.

The jail nurse wasn’t called to examine Farris until the day before he died; she only looked at him through the slot in the door and didn’t relate any concerns to jail staff.

Since the death, Brown has taken many steps to reform the facility. The jail has a new chief, more staff and a new way of handling medical and mental-health related problems.