The final moments of Antonio Zambrano-Montes. Photo by Dario Infante Zunia/Viralhog.com
In Franklin County, a man died in a burst of police gunfire while holding out his empty hands in surrender. In Mason County, a cop, called to aid a man threatening suicide, ended up killing him. In Pierce County, a resident went to his door with a gun, apparently thinking the visitor was a man he’d fought with earlier in the day. Unfortunately, it was the police, who killed him.
A suspect, a cop, and a weapon—real or imagined—is a potentially fatal mix, sometimes requiring life-or-death snap decisions that can turn out tragically wrong. In April, police in Lakewood killed a man allegedly pointing a gun at them. It turned out to be a cell phone.
These shooting incidents are among the nine cases of people being killed during fast-moving police encounters in Washington in the first six months of this year. Five were white, the others Asian, Native, and Hispanic. Most of the shootings occurred in rural areas, such as Woodland, Shelton, and Sumas. Two unfolded in the Tri-Cities.
Another 10 people died in custody after they were arrested and booked into jails around the state, Seattle Weekly determined through interviews, court reviews, and media reports. They include an Island County man who died of dehydration and malnutrition after 13 days of jail neglect, and an inmate who died of a yet-to-be revealed cause at the Franklin County jail. In a related action, the jail is being sued by Seattle attorneys for abusing inmates, including one who, the attorneys claim, bit off two of his fingers after days of being chained to a fence.
Altogether, these 19 incidents average out to at least three civilian police-related deaths every month in the Evergreen State.
The number is in keeping with recent statistics. In the first six month of 2014, 20 people were killed (and 34 total by year’s end), according to the relatively new national body-count website, KilledByPolice.net. In 2013, 22 were killed in Washington over a seven-month period, starting in May when the website launched.
Counting these deaths is an inexact science, and comparisons don’t yet mean a lot. The figures from Killed By Police come up short on some counts. The site lists only 12 Washington shooting and in-custody deaths so far this year, having missed seven deaths the Weekly found, including two in the King County Jail.Those two deaths got little media coverage, which is a big part of the problem. News reports are a primary source for data researchers now attempting to do what the government has failed to: count all the law enforcement-related deaths in America. Like the Pentagon in wartime, the Justice Department does not keep a precise body count of all those killed in battle. But as the U.S. street toll has mounted and videos of police-related deaths have proliferated, critics are calling for more precise state-by-state tracking to determine the true cost in lives. Police deaths are counted. Why not civilians?
Prodded by the 2014 Ferguson, Mo., police shooting of Michael Brown and what has appeared to be a near-epidemic of other police-related fatalities since, The Washington Post and The Guardianrecently tackled the phenomenon in a series of reports, hoping to accurately determine how many people have been killed by police across the country.
The Wall Street Journal also dove in, discovering a statistical anomaly: more than 550 law-enforcement killings were not included in FBI statistics between 2007 and 2012, making it impossible to trust any official tally of how many people are killed by police officers in any given year. The Post—which did not include Taser-related or in-custody jail deaths in its count—found that U.S. law-enforcement officers have killed upward of 385 people in the first five months of 2015. That’s about one every nine hours, or 2.5 deaths per day.
Compared to other countries, that’s a lot: Just eight died in Germany in 2013-14, and none in the UK last year. Including jail and Taser deaths as we have done, The Guardian determined that the U.S. averages 928 of these deaths per year—a number more than twice the official count gathered by U.S. government agencies. (The paper also noted that the six shots that hit surrendering farm worker Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco earlier this year were equal to all the shots fired in one year by Finnish police.) Those newspapers and some websites—such as Killed By Police and FatalEncounters.org—are assembling searchable databases to keep a running record of shootings.
It’s crucial to have the numbers, Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, told the Post: “We are never going to reduce the number of police shootings if we don’t begin to accurately track this information.”He hopes the data will lead to procedural changes for police as well. Nationwide, sixty-two officers have died in the line of duty so far this year, in causes ranging from shootings to car accidents. These include Chehalis officer Rick Silva, who died while undergoing surgery to correct a duty-related injury sustained in February while attempting to arrest a shoplifting suspect, according to Chief Glenn Schaffer.
Shooting scenes can be wild and improvisational, as shown in a New Year’s Eve 2012 video of Seattle police apparently being ambushed at a crime scene. It’s a chaotic moment when no one seems to know who’s shooting at whom, and underscores what outspoken ex-Baltimore cop Michael Wood recently told reporter/author Radley Balko: “Bad police shootings are almost always the result of . . . cops who were afraid, and fired their weapons out of fear.”
There’s nothing brave or heroic, he added, about shooting a suspect “the second you pull up to the scene. You know what is heroic? Approaching the young kid with the gun. Putting yourself at risk by waiting a few seconds to be sure that the kid really is a threat, that the gun is a real gun. The hero is the cop who hesitates to pull the trigger.” That does happen, but since no one dies, it’s less likely to be film at 11.
A number of the civilian deaths reviewed by the Weeklyappear justified, such as several “suicides-by-cop,” in which a civilian makes a threatening move in the hope that police will pull the trigger. But the truth is in the details, and travels slowly. Some post-mortem reviews can wrap up quickly, while others await completion of internal or multi-jurisdictional investigations. Take the shooting of Zambrano-Montes in February: Officials took five months to complete their findings, but still haven’t fully announced them. (They released more video this month and claim the farmworker asked them to kill him, but have yet to explain why he was shot while holding out his empty hands.)
In some cases, it takes time to make sense of senseless acts. But undue delay raises suspicions. In Lakewood, a month passed before police would even admit the man they’d killed in April had only a cell phone on him. By then, they’d begun blaming the victim, who was mentally ill. They claimed he held the phone like a weapon.
Nine years ago, the Weeklytook a long look at police-related deaths in and around Seattle and how they are dealt with in courts. “Justified” was always the finding by King County inquest juries weighing police shoots, regardless of the victim’s race, sex, age, or level of guilt. Buttressed with questionable findings, a prosecutor could claim there was reasonable doubt and decide charges were unwarranted. That happened even in the killing by the Seattle Police Department of a mentally disabled man with a squirt gun: Though he was riddled with 19 police bullets, no one was held responsible but the squirt-gunner.
SPD killed five people last year: a bank-robbery suspect, an armed man in a Queen Anne standoff, another who was attacking people at Gas Works Park, a fourth who pointed a gun at police following a car chase, and a fifth who pointed a replica gun at police. King County Sheriff’s Office deputies also killed a man in Seattle at a light-rail station in 2014. Encouragingly, no one has been killed by SPD or KCSO officers so far this year.
Elsewhere in the state, the body count has kept up with recent trends. We wanted to take a closer look at these incidents, in hopes of making some sense of these untimely deaths. For each we have sought to go beyond the toll numbers and explain the circumstances, but many remain under investigation with the details still under wraps. Despite the common role of law enforcement, each of these 19 stories is as unique as the lives that were lost. Sadly, they won’t be the last.
TIMOTHY J. ELLIOTT
The January 2 killing of Elliott, 53, is the strange case of a man who reportedly attempted to kill himself, failed, and ended up being killed by a Mason County Sheriff’s deputy.
Daughter Megan Elliott, 18, called 911 around 9:30 p.m. to report that her father, a pharmaceutical salesman, had shot himself, according to a follow-up report by Detective William Adam. Sergeant Trevor Severance and Deputy Sheriff Alfonzo Mercado responded to a residence in the 600 block of East Island Lake Drive, a rural area north of Shelton, where Elliott was aiding her wounded father.
Severance, a trained Emergency Medical Technician, entered the residence with medical gear. But he and Mercado discovered that the bullet Elliott fired had only grazed his ear. Elliott greeted them with a .357 in his hand. At close range, he had clear shots at the deputies and held his gun menacingly. Severance and Mercado drew their weapons and began shouting for Elliott to drop the .357. (Megan Elliott had not hung up after the 911 call, and dispatchers were still on the line. The deputies’ commands can be heard on the recorded audio.) He refused to discard his weapon, investigators say. The seconds ticked past.
“When Tim Elliott threatened to take the life of one of the deputies,” Det. Adam reports, “Severance was provided no other choice but to discharge his weapon, striking and mortally wounding Tim Elliott.”
Having failed to shoot himself, Elliott may have decided to commit suicide by cop. Or he simply wasn’t making rational decisions: His family told police he was taking medication for severe depression.
After a review, including an investigation led by the neighboring Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office, Mason County Prosecutor Mike Dorcy concluded that Severance had followed the law. Mason County Sheriff Casey Salisbury called the sergeant’s actions courageous. Shortly after Elliott’s death, daughter Megan said on Facebook, “I know you all will be seeing stuff on the news. My best friend in the whole world and the best person I will ever know, my father, went up to heaven today. I love him more than anything in the world.”
ANTONIO ZAMBRANO- MONTES
It’s been almost a half-year since Zambrano-Montes, unarmed, was killed by three officers on the streets of Pasco, shot at point-blank range while he held out his hands. We know who did it: officers Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright, and Adrian Alaniz. We’re told it was because the suspect threw rocks at police and ran. But we’re not told why, when Zambrano-Montes stopped and seemingly surrendered, he was still shot dead.
In the first police shooting death of the year—that of Tim Elliott—officials released an account within three weeks. To date, Pasco police and investigators from a regional task force have yet to provide any detailed conclusions about what happened to Zambrano-Montes. In the past couple of weeks, Franklin County prosecutor Shawn Sant finally released large files of interviews and reports, along with eight sets of raw video taken by witnesses. They add more details to the case—including witness statements that police were never in danger of being hurt by the suspect. But Sant has still not said whether he will file charges against police. “The right decision is more important than a quick decision,” he said in a recent statement. The case is expected to drag out for months, with a coroner’s inquest looming.
In the meantime, police have been much more forthcoming with information about Zambrano-Montes, who was accused last year of trying to grab an officer’s gun during an arrest, earning him a six-month sentence. The 35-year-old out-of-work illegal immigrant was separated from his wife and suffering from depression after his house had caught fire a few weeks earlier. In the latest police disclosure, he is said to have been on meth when killed.
But in the dead man’s corner is a shooting video that garnered national attention. It captures a particularly persuasive scene: Maybe Zambrano-Montes’ hands weren’t up, but they were out, and empty.
The cell phone video was posted to YouTube and soon viewed more than 2 million times. The man who recorded the shooting, Dario Infante Zuniga, 21, said police came to his home later and seized the phone without a warrant, claiming it was evidence.
Zuniga thought the footage showed a bad shoot. “It looked like he had his hands in the air when he crossed the street,” Zuniga told reporters. He witnessed, he said, police firing a volley of shots at the fleeing man’s back, though none seem to strike him.
Police are shown scurrying around several squad cars with blue lights flashing. Five gunshots are heard. Police and witnesses say bullets flew through a busy intersection as Zambrano-Montes fled. Police claimed they tried to stop him with a Taser at first, but it either did not connect or had no effect.
Zambrano-Montes is next seen running, possibly limping, as he crosses the intersection with officers in close pursuit. His hands are up, then out, as he trots along a sidewalk next to a cafe. He twists and looks back, seemingly attempting to stop and submit. He is holding his hands away from his body. Finally he halts and turns, hands in front. He briefly touches both hands to his shirt—not his waistband.
As three officers fire, Zambrano-Montes crumples to the pavement and dies.
Altogether, 17 shots were fired at the running figure. Kennewick Sgt. Ken Lattin decided that “five or six rounds struck Mr. Zambrano.” He was uncertain of the count because autopsy results don’t agree. The official autopsy came up with five—none in the back. But subsequent autopsies, authorized by Zambrano-Montes’ widow and parents, found eight entrance wounds, including two on the backside. If correct, Zambrano-Montes might have been hit during the first volley, and thus already wounded when he held out his hands and was shot dead.
The shooting brought to four the number of people shot and killed by police in Pasco over just seven months. In September 2014, a Pasco cop fatally shot a suspected car thief armed with an Airsoft pistol that fires non-metallic pellets. The prosecutor called the death a justified shoot. Last July, two Pasco officers were cleared for killing a homeowner who approached them with a knife and refused to drop it. Also last summer, a Benton County deputy killed a drunken Pasco man after a four-hour standoff during which the suspect fired 60 rounds at police.
Maybe those were legal shoots. But not Zambrano-Montes’ death, says family attorney Charles Herrmann of Seattle. Thanks to the video, we’re able to witness the “unjustifiable killing of an unarmed man,” Herrmann says.
Flanagan—one of the three officers involved—resigned effective July 2, saying he is taking a job in the building-trades industry. “It’s unfortunate that an officer felt he had to give up his career for what occurred,” said Police Chief Bob Metzger.
JAMISON E. CHILDRESS
Childress, 20, brought a spray can to a gun fight. Wanted for murder, the young Canadian was trying to slip across the U.S./Canada border on a Thursday afternoon, March 19, near Sumas, Whatcom County, when he was spotted by a U.S. border patrol agent.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Childress was slated to be charged with first-degree murder in the death of Brando Walker. The charred, dead body of the 18-year-old was found near Alberta’s Elbow River, dumped there, apparently, after being slain at a Calgary home.
The border agent spotted Childress with a backpack heading through an unauthorized area after he tripped a sensor. According to the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office, Childress “appeared disheveled, frightened, and started backing up.” He began fumbling through his pack and didn’t react when the agent ordered him to show his hands. The agent had drawn his gun when Childress pulled out a can of bear-repellent spray and took off through the thicket. The agent radioed for assistance, and Childress was then confronted by two police officers and another agent.
Prosecutors say Childress began screaming “Kill me! . . . Just fucking shoot me,” pointing the bear spray at the lawmen. As Childress got closer, the officers backed up their cars. Childress then moved directly toward the border agent. “You better fucking kill me, pig!” he allegedly shouted. The agent was backed up to a drainage ditch and could give no more ground.
Childress set off the bear spray and the agent fired. A cloud engulfed the agent just as one of two shots hit Childress in the temple. Toxicology tests indicated he’d been under the influence of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Prosecutor Dave McEachran told The Bellingham Heraldthat a two-month review found the shooting justified.
WILLIAM J. DICK III
Just before 10 a.m. on April 4, Dave Graves, a United States Forest Service (USFS) officer, was flagged down on Highway 20 near Tonasket. The roadway adjoins the infamous Highway 97, a byway rife with drug smugglers hauling dope and money from Canada to California. According to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, a 47-year-old man from Idaho told the federal officer he was hitchhiking when three people in a van—a female and two males—offered him a ride. Once on the road, the hitchhiker realized his new buddies were smoking meth and acting crazy. One then pulled a gun and pointed it at the hitchhiker’s head. They took his $150 cash and a fly rod and kicked him out of the van.
An hour later, the USFS officer spotted the suspect vehicle near a campground on Lyman Lake Road. The officer began tailing the van and called for backup. After a Washington State Patrol trooper fell in with him, the two officers tried to stop the van, which then sped off. The three vehicles roared along a back road for about five miles until the van spun out of control and hit a tree. The two men ran into the woods, leaving the woman behind.
It was a brief foot chase. One man escaped (but later surrendered). The officers caught up with the other suspect, William J. Dick III, 28, of Coulee Dam. When he wouldn’t surrender, the forest service officer nailed him with a Taser. He was cuffed and taken into custody.
Then he suddenly stopped breathing, Sheriff Rogers says. The officers used CPR and a medic unit was called, but no one could revive the suspect.
An autopsy a few days later could not determine a cause of death, The Wenatchee World reported. Okanogan County Coroner Dave Rodriguez said it might be a case of “excited delirium” brought on by the combined effect of drugs and Taser shock. There was no video of the event, and no officer was charged.
DANIEL I. COVARRUBIAS
Lakewood Police say the call came in around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21. Somebody saw a man running through the parking lot of a lumberyard on 108th Street Southwest. The man was carrying a hooded jacket. It seemed suspicious.
He climbed a fence and was apparently hiding on top of a rack of lumber, 25 feet in the air.
“No police agencies in the area were chasing him or actively looking for him prior to the lumberyard employees calling 911,” police said in a statement. But the man ended up dead nonetheless.
Officers say they saw the man atop the lumber pile and told him to come down. But he reached for something in his pocket, they claim. So they shot Daniel I. Covarrubias, 37, who, unknown to police, had just come from the hospital because he was having hallucinations.
Afterward, police put out word they were looking into Covarrubias’ criminal history. It included auto theft, drunk driving, eluding police, and assault, although none of that would change the facts of the shooting. Yet what were the facts? “To protect the integrity of the investigation, we are not releasing any details at this time,” Lakewood police said in a statement.
But did Covarrubias have a weapon? Police wouldn’t say that day.
Turns out he didn’t. He had a cell phone, police conceded the following month.
Nonetheless, interim Chief Mike Zaro insists the cops had no other options. There was not enough time to identify whatever it was that Covarrubias was supposedly pointing. He was hit by five of the nine bullets officers fired at him.
Covarrubias’ family has already come to a finding. “He was shot and murdered in broad daylight by the police,” his sister Lanna Covarrubias told KOMO-TV. A father of seven, her brother was a drug addict with mental problems who struggled to try to stay clean, Lanna said. “I just can’t believe my brother is another statistic.”
The shooting is currently being investigated by the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, who work with police on a daily basis.
MILLARD J. TALLANT III
His job and his 18-year marriage had already ended. And so too would life on a May evening for Tallant, 62.
He and his wife separated last December and filed for divorce on May 6, when he was still out of work. He hadn’t told her about being laid off, and had drained $100,000 from his retirement fund to cover up his lack of income. His wife kicked him out when she discovered the loss.
Just after midnight on May 28, he went to the estranged wife’s home on Tester Road in Monroe. He left after a brief meeting and fired off a round from his handgun. Responding to the wife’s 911 call saying Tallant had also talked of suicide, Snohomish County deputy Dan Tenbrink arrived around 12:30 a.m. and radioed that he had a man in sight.
Tenbrink then called out, “Shots fired. Shots fired,” The Herald of Everett reported. “I have one down,” the deputy radioed. “He’s not moving.” The man fired his gun during the confrontation, the deputy told dispatchers: He “popped off one shot after I shot.”
It was initially unclear whether the fatal shot was fired by the deputy or self-inflicted by Tallant. But the Herald later discovered a search warrant issued in the wake of the shooting that states that Tenbrink shot Tallant twice in the chest and Tallant then shot himself in the head, after Tallant ignored commands to drop his gun, the sheriff’s office said. Tenbrink fired once when Tallant began to raise his gun, and three more times when he again refused to disarm. Tallant fell, and fired his last shot at himself.
A multi-agency team continues to investigate the death.
A loud-noise complaint. Tacoma Police are called. They confront a man, and shoot him dead. It was a tragic moment made possible by the victim, who answered the door with a gun, and by police who were apparently unaware of all the circumstances.
Earlier on that 10th day of May, Cunningham, 47, had had a run-in with another man. When the knock on the door came just after 10 p.m., he thought it was the man coming back, Cunningham’s mother Beverly said. Her son picked up a gun and walked to the door of their South Proctor Street duplex, where the parents and son live side-by-side.
There was a confrontation. Then bullets went flying. Steve Gary, a neighbor who witnessed the incident, told KOMO-TV he heard 14 gunshots. “It sounded like 14 gunshots, you know, seven in a row—and then another seven.”
Tacoma police say officers saw Cunningham pick up the gun when he came to the door, and that he was shot just outside the duplex. A SWAT team was then called in to help clear the house. The incident remains under investigation.
What little we know for sure is that Cunningham was taken away in a body bag on Mother’s Day. And that Mom Beverly was left to wrestle with the rights and wrongs. “It could have been different if my son hadn’t had a gun in his hand,” she told KIRO-TV. “But I don’t blame the police. I really don’t.”
Still, she added, police told her that her son did not fire his weapon, for which he had a concealed-carry permit. “I’m not angry with police, it’s just a situation that should never have happened,” the mother said. “They made the decision to shoot him, which personally, I don’t think they should have. They could have shot him in the leg or something.”
Another thing, she said: She never heard any loud music that night.
ROARK K. COOK
The early-Monday 911 call came from Cook’s mother. Her 36-year-old son was mentally unstable, and was having an episode. He might hurt others, she said. He had done jail and prison time for domestic violence and assault. He also had access to guns.
Police were told he was at a woman’s residence at a West Ninth Avenue apartment complex in Kennewick. At 3:30 a.m. on May 4, officers knocked and announced, but the woman who answered said all was well and they should go away, police told the Tri-City Herald.
Hearing a commotion inside, the officers attempted to break through the door. But when Cook shouted that he had a gun, they moved away, evacuating neighbors and calling for backup. Richland police, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, and the combined Tri-City SWAT team responded.
Surrounding the building, police, in the darkness, saw a woman and a 7-year-old boy on a second-story balcony outside the apartment. The woman dropped the boy safely to police but as she tried to climb down, Cook pulled her back inside. She got free again and, as she went over the balcony a second time, Cook fired his gun.
Officers shielded the woman, risking death, while others shot back at Cook. Two bullets, fired by Benton County deputy Logan Brown and Richland police officer Ryan Miller, hit Cook, striking him in the thigh and under the shoulders, an autopsy would later show.
Cook crawled back into the apartment, and a second woman emerged and safely escaped over the balcony. Cook remained inside and refused to give up, also rejecting medical help. Police then decided to peek inside. The Richland bomb squad blew open a door and sent in a robot to spy on Cook. He could be seen still alive in the apartment, but he was armed and continued to refuse to surrender. He died shortly after from his wounds. The Herald reported that Cook—who had at least four no-contact orders filed against him by women—was accused of choking an ex-wife, threatening to stab another woman while she was pregnant, forcing another woman into sex, threatening children, assaulting police, and beating his estranged wife’s sister with a pot. He had racked up 35 court cases dating back to 1999. Said a family friend: “He was a happy guy when he was taking his medications.”
Marshall, 58. was having a bad day, and night. Just before 2 a.m. that Sunday, June 7, his wife called the 10-officer police department in Woodland, a town of 6,000 residents 20 miles north of Vancouver, and said her husband was waving a gun and threatening to shoot her. He also threatened to shoot himself, she added.
Officer Terry Casey, a 13-year veteran, was at the residence on Third Street in five minutes. He entered warily. When Marshall came toward him, he still had the gun and would not surrender it. Casey fired in self-defense, police say, killing Marshall. The death is still being investigated by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and no other details are available.
Marshall’s obituary described him as “an avid outdoorsman, enjoying hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping. He loved people. His family and friends meant the world to him.” In a statement, Woodland Police said they were “deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life and the resultant grief caused to Mr. Marshall’s family.”
King County Jails
Compared to previous death rates, this seemed like a much-improved year at King County’s two jails, in Seattle and Kent. Just a few years back, the jails were averaging a death every other month. Federal inspectors, citing civil-rights violations, said some of them were preventable and that inmates faced a “grave risk of harm” when incarcerated in the county lockups.
Things seem to have turned around lately, and for the first four months of 2015, no deaths were reported.
Then two men died in three days.
Brandon Dean Burris, 27, of Burien, was found unresponsive in his cell at the Kent Regional Justice Center lockup, according to jail spokesperson Steven Falcon. Emergency resuscitation measures failed and he was pronounced dead on May 1. On May 4, Nathan Adam Zambryski, a 31-year-old inmate at the downtown Seattle jail, suffered an apparent seizure, was rushed to the hospital, but died. According to Public Health spokesperson James Apa, the medical examiner has not yet determined the cause of death in either case.
Spokane County Jail
Spokane County Jail, meanwhile, has so far doubled King County’s inmate death rate this year. One of the latest cases, from May 13, started with the domestic-violence arrest of Lorenzo Hayes, 37, at a north Spokane duplex. A sometime welder who’d learned his trade at Renton Technical College, Hayes was known to police as a meth and heroin dealer. On this Wednesday, he was being busted for violating a no-contact order.
Hayes was taken to the county jail, and appeared to be high on something, police claim. He kicked the interior of a patrol car while being transported. At the booking desk, custody officers attempted to strap him into a restraint chair to keep him from hurting himself or others.
During the struggle, Hayes collapsed and stopped breathing. Officers began to administer emergency chest compressions, and medics were called. Hayes was rushed to a hospital, but was pronounced dead.
“We need answers,” his cousin Monica Moore told The Spokesman-Review. If he was high and distressed, why wasn’t he first taken to the ER at Holy Family Hospital four blocks away, rather than to jail? she asked. An autopsy later determined Hayes died of apparent cardiac arrest.
Hayes was just one of three Spokane prisoners who died during a six-week spell this spring. John Everitt, 46, was found dead in his cell in May with a sheet around his neck; the cause of death was “hanging by ligature,” an apparent suicide. Scott M. Stevens, 53, arrested for stealing a handbag at a department store, died June 12 in his cell from unknown causes, according to a news release. Another death was reported in January, but officials did not provide a name or details of the victim.
Clark County Jail
At the Clark County Jail in Vancouver, Mychael Lynch, 32, died on March 22 after he suffered a “medical emergency” while struggling with officers, The Columbian reported. Arrested for DUI and other traffic violations, Lynch was placed in the jail’s medical unit. There, a few hours later, he activated an alarm, apparently maliciously. Jailers decided Lynch should be moved to another cell, but he resisted. Jailers restrained him, resulting in the “medical emergency.” Lynch was taken to a hospital where he died two days later. Said Undersheriff Mike Cooke in a press release, “We’ll refrain from making any unsupported comments or arriving at any conclusions until after the investigation is completed.”
Island County Jail
One of the problems in assessing jail deaths is often the lack of investigation from independent outside agencies. But after 25-year-old Keaton Farris of Lopez Island died April 7 in the 58-bed Island County Jail in Coupeville, the county sheriff, who also runs the jail, issued a 65-page report that appears to pull no punches: Ferris, who was bipolar, died of dehydration and malnutrition, Det. C.E. Wallace Jr. found, and was clearly neglected during his 13 days in jail. Wallace methodically estimated the amount of water/fluids Farris consumed during his stay—it came to 185 ounces. By federal standards, he should have consumed closer to 1563.2 ounces of fluid over that time period.
Booked for failure to appear on a check-forgery charge, Farris was in a cell where the water was shut off, and officers were not checking on him regularly; they also falsified logs to hide the lack of checks. Two deputies resigned, the jail’s chief deputy William “De” Dennis was suspended without pay for 30 days, and Lt. Pam McCarty was put on paid leave. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks says he is now reviewing the death to determine if criminal charges can be filed against jail personnel. And a lawsuit is in the works. “I am truly sorry for this tragic death,” Sheriff Mark Brown said.
The other two prisoners who died this year did so on the same day in jails separated by the Columbia River. Russell Sharrer, 54, a Tri-Cities dishwasher, died on February 27 in the Franklin County Jail in Pasco. He was reportedly acting paranoid and possibly hallucinating after his arrest during a traffic stop. He fought with a state trooper while being escorted to the jail booking area, officials said.
“During the course of the physical confrontation,” the county sheriff’s office reported, “Corrections Officers subdued Mr. Sharrer. While completing the search and intake process Mr. Sharrer had an unknown medical emergency.” He died at a hospital later that Friday. The jail has yet to reveal a cause of death.
Also on February 27, Michael Shae , 22, died in the Benton County Jail across the bridge in Kennewick. He was reportedly found with bedding tied around his neck, and was thought to have committed suicide. His family told KNDU-TV Shae had mental issues, and when previously jailed had been put on suicide watch after he tried to kill himself. They were stunned to hear he wasn’t under watch this time.
Attorneys from Columbia Legal Service in Seattle are among those hoping to prevent such deaths as well as the abuse of prisoners. They are suing the Franklin jail, and the two sides are reportedly close to reaching a settlement, according to the Tri-City Herald. The lawsuit claims the jail’s prisoners were subjected to barbaric practices such as being chained to a fence for days, forced into isolation, left for long periods in restraint chairs, and pepper-sprayed for no reason. CLS calls the jail “among the worst, if not the worst” of the 20 lockups it is investigating statewide.