Avoiding litigation allows family to focus on reforms at Island County jail | Letter

Keaton Farris, age 25, died April 7, 2015, in the Island County Jail. He died alone, naked, on a concrete floor in a tiny cell. He was not found for several hours though his cell was merely feet away from the control desk.

  • Monday, December 14, 2015 9:09pm
  • News

Editor,

Keaton Farris, age 25, died April 7, 2015, in the Island County Jail. He died alone, naked, on a concrete floor in a tiny cell. He was not found for several hours though his cell was merely feet away from the control desk.

Jail staff falsified records to cover the callous disregard of his condition.

Keaton was being held on a warrant from San Juan County for failing to appear at his arraignment for forging a $325 check.

Keaton was a loving and greatly loved, happy and intelligent young man. In the year before his death, Keaton had been diagnosed bipolar. He was struggling with the disease and medication management. These struggles led to his $325 forgery, his incarceration, and then to his deteriorating mental condition over two weeks between Snohomish, Skagit and Island county jails.

During his appearance in San Juan County Court, and during contact with jail transport officers and custodial staff, it was obvious that Keaton was gravely disabled and in need of mental health intervention.

Yet, none occurred.

One could view Keaton as a victim of the grossly underfunded mental health system, whose victims comprise 35 percent of county jail inmates in Washington. But mental health problems such as Keaton’s are not new or unanticipated by jail officials. Rather, his death was directly caused by the deplorable, unconscionable and unconstitutional manner in which people with mental illness are treated in our so-called “justice system.”

During 10 days in custody, no one physically evaluated him, offered mental health services, or allowed visits from family members desperately trying to help. Instead, Island County Jail staff assured us he was in the place he would be safest with “round-the-clock care.”

Why did we settle with the county? Unlike many cases, litigation wasn’t necessary to learn what happened. The investigation into Keaton’s death by Detective Ed Wallace of the Island County Sheriff’s Office was timely, thorough and above all, honest in uncovering the heartless indifference.

Following that report, Island County hired Phil Stanley, who provided a thorough analysis of the systemic problems in the jail. His report was reviewed and largely concurred in by our consultant. Island County has already made many changes recommended by Mr. Stanley, and has appropriated $770,000 in funds for continued reform.

We believe this demonstrates Island County’s commitment to change the conditions in the jail and prevent the re-occurrence of such horrific treatment of another person.

A settlement agreement with monitoring allows us the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the county to continue the changes that are so important to us.

Avoiding litigation allows the county to focus on making changes for current and future inmates of the jail, many of whom now have and will have mental health problems.

It is trite but true that no amount of money can compensate us for Keaton’s loss.

His death is a heinous atrocity we will live with every day for the rest of our lives. However, we want to focus on remembering Keaton’s great love, which lives on in our hearts and through his writings, and in the loving of his family, friends and community.

The family of Keaton Farris

 

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