Whidbey woman’s jail death prompts lawsuit

She wasn’t ‘faking it’: A lawsuit blames the jail for her death

Piper Travis (Family photo)

Piper Travis (Family photo)

Family members have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that staff at the Snohomish County Jail neglected an inmate, leading to her death.

The suit, brought last Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, says corrections deputies and nursing staff at the jail ignored Piper Travis, 34, as her health declined. During her two weeks in custody, she screamed in pain, foamed at the mouth, became unresponsive to instructions and soiled herself, the complaint states.

According to the suit, medical staff did little to help and said she was “faking it.”

By the time emergency responders took her to the hospital, her health had deteriorated, plaintiffs say. She died days later on Dec. 16, 2017. An obituary in The Daily Herald said she lived most of her life on Whidbey Island, liked to travel and had a “fierce love for her family and friends.”

The wrongful death suit does not list the dollar figure sought.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment last Thursday.

Travis was a passenger in a car that was pulled over Nov. 20, 2017. Officers found she had misdemeanor warrants and booked her into the jail.

One of the warrants involved an October 2017 incident in Island County in which she was accused of failing to comply with orders from a police officer. She didn’t appear for a hearing Nov. 1, 2017.

Piper Travis on the ferry. (Family photo)

Piper Travis on the ferry. (Family photo)

At booking, medical staff didn’t see anything wrong with her and deemed her fit for jail, according to the complaint.

Eight days later, a corrections deputy found Travis crying in her cell and suffering from a severe headache, the suit says. The plaintiffs said she made incoherent comments, indicating that her mental health was declining.

Later that day, Travis groaned in “pain and anguish for hours,” and a deputy told her to quiet down because she shared a small living space with 12 other people, according to the suit.

She continued making noises over the next few days. She also refused to eat, had difficulty following instructions and removed clothing, plaintiffs said.

Jail staff allegedly made no meaningful effort to evaluate her condition. The plaintiffs cite a deputy’s report saying maximum security confinement was “a good place for her.”

Another deputy noticed something wrong Dec. 1.

“Travis would not look directly at me,” he wrote, according to the lawsuit. “Her eyes would sort of roll back halfway, clenched fists, tensed body, shaking, breathing fast, yelling and incoherent.”

At that point, Travis apparently couldn’t stand on her own. Staff put her in a wheelchair and took her to an observation room. A deputy wrote she tensed up her body, “like she was in pain and wanted us to be aware of that,” the complaint says.

Plaintiffs cited observation records kept by jail staff, describing check-ins done at half-hour intervals. “On floor, foaming,” read a series of four out of five notes. The fifth note was illegible.

Afterward, medical staff took her vital signs for the first time since she was booked, the suit states. Her blood pressure had spiked and she had a fever of almost 102. She had nothing to eat or drink for almost 20 hours. Staff noted she was not responding.

Emergency responders took her to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, where a doctor diagnosed her with sepsis, meningitis and acute respiratory distress, the complaint says. She was given painkillers and antibiotics. She went into a medically induced coma.

By Dec. 12, Travis had no brain activity. She died four days later.

Conditions at the jail have drawn scrutiny over the past decade. The sheriff’s office has instituted significant reforms, many of which followed a string of deaths leading up to 2015. There also have been a number of large settlements with families of inmates who have died behind bars, or during booking.

The suit alleges the jail has “failed to address their deficiencies” and didn’t appropriately investigate Travis’ death.

Summons in the civil case were issued Wednesday. The county has not yet responded in court.

Reporter Rikki King contributed to this story.

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