Island County prosecutor recuses himself from jail death review

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks announced today that he no longer believes he is the right person to review the April death of Keaton Farris in the Coupeville Jail.

In a released statement, Banks said to avoid any perceptions of a conflict of interest that he has requested Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Dave McEachran perform the review on behalf of his office.

“After meeting with Keaton Farris’ father several weeks ago, I concluded that I was wrong to keep the case,” Banks wrote in the release. “I had earlier sought candid advice from other prosecutors. They and Mr. Farris convinced me that no matter how justified my decisions may have been, there would always be lingering doubts about my objectivity because of my closeness to the sheriff [Mark Brown] and some of his staff, and because of my duty to look out for the interests of county government.”

Farris, 25, was a prisoner in the Coupeville jail and was found deceased in his cell at 12:20 a.m. on April 8. It was later determined he died of dehydration.

The jail is under the umbrella of the Island County Sheriff’s Office, and Banks announced later that he would review the matter to determine whether there were any criminal acts committed by jail employees. He has since been questioned if he was the right person to do the work due to his ties with the Sheriff’s Office. He maintained that he was.

“My rationale was that I was elected by the voters to decide which cases to prosecute in Island County, and prosecute them,” he wrote, in Wednesday’s news release. “An elected prosecutor should be very reluctant to void a case unless there is a real conflict of interest that influences his or her judgment. ‘Conflicting out’ of a case without a genuine conflict would be, in my mind, shirking my duties. The voters expect me to make those calls in Island County.”

According to the statement, when Banks decided to pass the case along he initially requested the Washington Attorney General step in but they declined. McEachran was an easy second choice, he said, adding that McEachran is the “most seasoned elected prosecutor in the state.”

“I know of no elected prosecutor in Washington who comes close to his level of experience in criminal prosecution,” Banks said. “I am grateful for his willingness to take on this difficult case.”