Dying in Jail, Money-Loving Incumbents, and Attack of the Zebra Mussels

Jail Errors Soar

As federal and county investigators complete their reviews of medical and procedural breakdowns in King County's jails, the in-custody death rate continued at a high level last year, while the number of reported medical errors in the jail system soared, according to new figures obtained by Seattle Weekly.

Just three King County inmates died while in custody from 2000 through 2002. But 20 have died in the past four years. The most recent was James Whiteshield, 17, who was held in the county juvenile facility. He died in January after swallowing a packet of rock cocaine, investigative records show. Jailers were unaware he'd ingested the packet when he was arrested, although he'd done the same thing when arrested under similar circumstances in 2005.

Of five who died last year, inmateJeffrey Alexander was killed after falling out of his bunk and landing on his head. Alexander, who had been booked on driving infractions only a day earlier, suffered a spinal injury, officials said. Another inmate was shot and killed while out on work-release, two died of natural causes, while a fifth, in custody on electronic home detention, committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Medical errors, meanwhile, increased by more than 200 incidents in 2006 over 2005, according to newly released data. There were 854 incidents reported to Jail Health Services in 2006. They were about evenly split between the King County Correctional Facility (the downtown Seattle jail) and the Regional Justice Center in Kent. In 2005, 614 incidents were reported.

Most errors had to do with administration of medicines, the jail says. There were 53 patient-treatment errors as well.

The medication-administration category "includes information on a large variety of specific issues, including potential errors," says Lisa Werlech of the county health department, which oversees Jail Health Services.

The types of information reported, she says,include immunization reactions, allergies, and medications not given at the right time. "To put this data in context, we dispensed a total of 191,119 new or refill prescriptions in 2006. Medication-administration incidents made up 0.39 percent of the total prescriptions dispensed."

Werlechattributes the sharp rise in part to the "expected outcome of our increased emphasis on training, education, and support for all staff to look for and report all incidents, and it reflects the ongoing improvement in our quality-assurance practices."

As the Weekly has reported over the past few years, jail health care has been poorly managed, according to nurses, inmates, and custody officers, sometimes leading to deadly errors, such as the suicide of one inmate who was able to hoard his prescribed pills and the fatal administration of the wrong medicine to another inmate. The increase in deaths and mistakes have since drawn ongoing reviews by the county and the U.S. Department of Justice.Rick Anderson

Mo' Money

According to disclosure reports filed last week, the four City Council incumbents who are up for re-election this year—Sally Clark, David Della, Jean Godden, and Tom Rasmussen—have each raked in more than $100,000 in donations, even though only one of them (Della) has a challenger.

Call council member Rasmussen Mr. Moneybags. With six months still to go before Election Day, he's raised $148,792 and has another $108,799 in the bank. Della's challenger, Tim Burgess, has raised a respectable $81,810, and has only spent about $30,000 of it so far. Those vying for the open seat being vacated by Peter Steinbrueck are currently led by Bruce Harrell, who's raised $72,324 and spent a little over $20,000.

Most sitting council members begin stockpiling their war chests the moment they get elected, and are expected to bring in around $300,000 this year—a startling figure, especially if you're a hopeful challenger pounding the pavement. New candidates have until June 8 to file.Aimee Curl

When Zebra Mussels Attack

I love scare stories, whether it's killer bees, bird flu, mad cows, or WMDs (OK, bad example). So it gladdens my fear-mongering journalistic heart that now zebra mussels threaten to infest our home waters. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is warning us that boats being hauled west from the Great Lakes and other regions may carry the invasive pest on their hulls. It's time to panic, people! We're talking about Dreissena polymorpha here, and these little bastards mean business! They clog pipes, displace native species, destroy pedicures! They. Will. Mess. You. Up. It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Communism all over again. We need a movie starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson as badass marine biologists fighting this watery plague. ("I am sick of these motherf...")

Our state takes the threat so seriously that we've got our own Zebra Mussel and European Green Crab Task Force (don't even get me started on European green crabs). And no less an authority than NOAA warns "zebra mussels' diverse genetic variations will make them more difficult to control." They're mutants! (That's only one short step below zombies.) NOAA also says they came to the U.S. from Eurasia, which somehow sounds a little racist—yellow peril and all. Sure to be a campaign issue for the GOP.

Fine, but you're wondering, "What do I do if confronted by a zebra mussel?" Well, I've studied the problem and recommend the following steps to deal with the deadly interloper. (1) Avoid eye contact, which will only provoke them further. (2) Try to relate to the zebra mussel on a personal level—hey, we all like to travel, right? And the Great Lakes weren't, you know, great enough. A mussel's gotta roam, y'all. (3) Don't discuss politics; zebra mussels are still notoriously sensitive about endorsing Ralph Nader and the Green Party back in '00. (4) Don't give away your phone number or agree to coffee later. Because if there's one proven danger about zebra mussels, we know it's this: They cling.Brian Miller

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