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Sheriff apologizes for jail inmate’s death from dehydration

COUPEVILLE, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state sheriff has apologized for a county jail inmate’s death from dehydration and malnutrition in April, saying it resulted from a systematic breakdown of jail operations.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown released a report Thursday in the case of Keaton Farris, 25, of Lopez Island, who was found dead April 8 in his cell.

“I am truly sorry for this tragic death,” Brown wrote in the report. “Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of our inmates and staff and this report describes a systematic breakdown of policies, procedures and communication that led to this tragedy.”

Family members said Farris had struggled with mental illness in the past two years and been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had improved with medication.

The jail’s chief deputy was suspended for 30 days without pay, and a lieutenant was placed on paid leave, the Daily Herald of Everett reported ( ). Two corrections deputies have resigned since being put on leave after the death.

“We are determined to do everything possible to minimize the chances of this kind of a tragedy from occurring in our jail ever again,” Brown said, adding he had met with the inmate’s father, Fred Farris, to express his condolences.

An outside expert will be hired to review jail operations and make recommendations, the sheriff said.

Coroner Robert Bishop found the cause of death was dehydration with a contributing factor of malnutrition. He ruled the manner of death to be natural causes.

The man’s parents were provided with a copy of the sheriff’s investigation and “the family is devastated,” their lawyer, Kathy Goater, told the Herald. “The report is shocking. There was a complete disregard for the health and safety of a mentally ill man.”

Goater said she and her colleague, Becky Roe, expect to file a lawsuit on behalf of the dead man’s parents and his estate. She called the death “completely preventable.”

The water had been shut off to Keaton Farris’ cell at one point after he put his pillow in the toilet, the report said. A report notation said the water was to be turned on only at meal times. He later flooded that cell and was moved to another, with the water turned off, the report said.

The young man had been arrested for failure to make a court appearance on a second-degree identity theft charge. He was awaiting a mental health evaluation to determine if he could assist in his defense. San Juan County prosecutors alleged that Farris in January cashed a check for $354.72 that didn’t belong to him.

Farris’ father told KING-TV of Seattle he thinks the legal problems worsened his son’s mental state.

Relatives plan a demonstration Sunday outside the jail. “We want to make sure that things get changed and that this doesn’t happen (again),” Fred Farris told the TV station.

“He died of dehydration. I’m angry at anybody who could have saved his life,” his mother, Tiffany Ferrians, earlier told KING. “Malnutrition and dehydration aren’t quick. He suffered. And that is something I have a really hard time with.”

Farris wound up at the jail in Coupeville because San Juan County doesn’t have a jail and uses Island County’s under a contract, the Herald reported.

Coupeville is located on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle.

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