On my birthday this year, March 20, police were called to a bank in Lynnwood, Washington, where a young man named Keaton Farris was lurking outside. When approached by the cops, he told an officer that he was “off his meds” and that he was projecting his thoughts at people inside the bank. Additionally, he said that he was “kind of anxious” but that the cop’s badge calmed him down. Apparently Farris had cashed a $355 check that belonged to a neighbor and had failed to attend his hearing for identity theft; a $10,000 warrant was issued. Because of the warrant, Farris was arrested and booked into the Lynnwood Jail, then transferred to Snohomish County Jail, and then to Skagit County on his way to Island County. These transfers took several days. He was originally booked with four tablets of lorezepam, a benzodiazapine prescribed for anxiety. He does not appear to have been offered his medication except in Skagit County on March 25 when he refused it, and he became increasingly unstable during the six days prior to landing in Island County Jail on March 26. Except for the 25th, medication passes are not documented. Jail personnel characterized him alternately as combative and unresponsive. At one point, a guard in Snohomish County Jail described him as “gravely disabled.”
During the period when Farris was in the four jails, he was “brought to ground” twice and tasered once, according to official documentation. He was confined to safety cells without water or a toilet, and he was strapped into a “restraint chair” for hours. He was not given a jail uniform at Island County; instead he was forced to wear a “suicide vest” and nothing else. At one point, he was left in restraints in a safety cell for several hours. A nurse was unable to check his hands which were behind his back, but his feet showed signs of swelling.
At Island County, he apparently plugged up his toilet with a pillow. The water to his cell was turned off except for mealtimes for a day (why didn’t they just take away his pillow?), and then again four days later when he was found “swimming” in the overflow of water on the floor of his cell. There is no evidence to suggest water was ever turned on again in his cells. Details of his incarceration can be found in this report:
On April 8th, Farris was discovered dead in his cell just after midnight; he had probably been dead at his last observation, at 8:30 p.m. on the 7th, but this somehow escaped the notice of the two guards who looked in on him. The cause of his death was listed as dehydration with a contributing factor of malnutrition.
While under heightened safety watch–referred to as “segregation”–he was supposed to be monitored at least once an hour. Guards were required to give him water, dispensed in five-ounce Dixie cups, at these checks–an amount of water which would not have been sufficient to sustain life. Detective Ed Wallace, who investigated Farris’s death, observed that he was not offered fluids hourly. It was determined that during the 12 days he was at Island County, his approximate water intake was 185 ounces, a mere fraction of the 1,563.2 that NIH considers adequate for that period of time. FEMA guidelines state that for survival purposes, 791.24 ounces are required.
When a prisoner is placed in segregation, other safety procedures are also required. A safety cell log, monitoring the mandatory hourly checks, wasn’t started immediately upon his segregation as dictated by procedure; it took more than 24 hours to put this in place and the log was incomplete. Supervisors didn’t inspect the logs every 12 hours which is mandated procedure. Supervisors are required to review the need for each inmate’s segregation every eight hours. This also was not done. When they were conducted, safety checks were not sufficient to assess the inmate’s well-being (the most egregious example being when they checked off Farris as OK when he was dead at 8:30 p.m. on April 7th). Finally, jail policy requires that inmates’ medical and mental-health status be assessed within 12 hours of booking and every 24 hours while in segregation, but Farris wasn’t evaluated until his 11th day in custody. As his father said to journalists, he was treated as a subhuman.
When it finally occurred on April 6–the day before his death–his medical evaluation consisted of a nurse standing outside his cell, talking through the plexiglass window to Farris and commenting that his color looked good. Farris remarked upon seeing her, “Oh good. I need a medical professional.” When she asked him how he was doing, he said, “Not good.” She did not follow up. The evaluation lasted about two minutes. Farris, described early in his incarceration as gravely disabled, was getting worse. Two hours after seeing the nurse, Farris was “examined” through the feeding slot on the cell door by a Dr. Hendrickson from Western State Hospital. He observed, “During my attempts to speak with him, he lay naked on the floor of his cell, talking continuously to himself, as if he were speaking to a person in the cell.” According to Detective Wallace’s report, “… it does not appear that Hendrickson made any recommendations to the jail staff regarding Farris’s condition after his interview.” Hendrickson also spoke with Farris’s father. He did not complete his report until the day after Farris’s death. Further, when Farris first arrived at Island County, none of his medical paperwork from the three other jails accompanied him, and his medication was strangely missing.
Mr. Farris’s parents apparently tried to see him a number of times but were denied access because, they were told, they would “aggravate” their son. His father called on March 31 to tell the jail that Farris needed his lithium and other medications. Keaton Farris was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago, but he was clearly in a full-scale psychosis without his medication and under the distress of incarceration. Benzodiazapines should never be stopped suddenly and it’s unknown when he last took his medication. He should not have been held in jail. He should have been transported to a mental health facility or hospital until he was stabilized.
At least two correction officers forged safety checks in the logs upon discovering Farris’s body. Their deception was discovered by Wallace when he checked video logs. They were put on administrative leave and both resigned. The jail administrator, Chief De Dennis, was placed on 30 days of unpaid leave with his future employment unclear. Lt. Pam McCarty was put on paid administrative leave pending disciplinary review. I haven’t been able to find out if any determination has been made on their fates. I find Lt. McCarty’s careless and casual attitude about the death of a young man on her watch to be the most offensive in this matter. In his report of the interview with her, Detective Wallace wrote “When I asked what the delay was in starting the safety cell procedure when placing somebody in a block with no access to water, McCarty answered, ‘I don’t know.’ ‘I wasn’t there.’ This is a person in a supervisory position, being paid to supervise. Her responses throughout the interview make her sound like a teenager. She should be fired, if not charged with a crime.
I have been in jail. I also take psychiatric medications. Fortunately, for now I can manage my prescriptions and my health. I am able to advocate for myself. It takes a lot of persistence for inmates to get anything done in jail. One must write “kites”–requests for anything from a doctor visit to a new pair of shoes–repeatedly in order to get a response. At one point when I was not getting seen by a doctor to get a prescription refill approved, the corrections officer told me she was getting annoyed with my nagging and that I wouldn’t die without the medication. I told her that I was beyond annoyed with her and that I had physicians handling my medical needs and I didn’t need the input of a jail flunky. That didn’t go over very well, but I got my medication. Inmates are routinely ignored and mocked. One has to wonder what kind of people take the job of correction officer. I will also note that other inmates are particularly cruel and unforgiving towards the mentally ill, usually for making too much noise.
I am infuriated by the needless death of Keaton Farris. Following upon this tragedy is the death of Sandra Bland, in a Texas jail. From what I know from my jail experience, I find it curious that Ms. Bland had a plastic garbage bag in her cell that was substantial enough to hang herself. When I’ve been in jail, regular inspections are conducted to ensure no contraband is in the cell. “Contraband” would include a garbage bag. I await a thorough investigation on this matter.
Finally, there should be no shame in mental illness just as with any other illness. To help affect change and to get justice for Keaton Farris, I urge you to visit his Web site and write letters to your representatives, Sheriff Mark Brown in Island County, and Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks.
Island County Prosecuting Attorney
P.O. Box 5000
Coupeville, WA 98239-5000
Sheriff Mark C. Brown
P.O. Box 5000
Coupeville, WA 98239-5000
Keaton’s Web site: http://www.keatonh2o.com/
Any mistakes in this story are my own. I have tried to thoroughly represent everything in the investigator’s report to the best of my ability.
And nah, that’s not me, it’s Beth Orton, in all her freckled glory. Keaton Farris belongs to the sun now.