County settles for $3.1M in woman’s jail-related death

Jail staff neglected a Whidbey Island woman as she became seriously ill, her family alleged.

Piper Travis

Piper Travis

By Zachariah Bryan/The Daily Herald

Snohomish County reached a $3.1 million settlement this month in the case of a Whidbey Island woman who died after a two-week stay in jail.

Piper Travis, 34, became seriously ill while in custody and was diagnosed in December 2017 with meningitis, sepsis and acute respiratory distress. She died in the hospital on Dec. 16, surrounded by family.

An obituary in The Daily Herald said Travis lived most of her life on Whidbey Island, liked to travel and had a “fierce love for her family and friends.”

Almost exactly a year after Travis’ passing, her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleging that Snohomish County Jail staff neglected Travis as her health declined, even as she screamed in pain and writhed on the floor. By the time she was taken to the hospital, she was unable to stand, talk, dress herself or control her bodily functions, plaintiffs wrote.

The plaintiffs called the actions of corrections staff “deliberate, inhumane and cruel,” alleging that they offered no treatment or meaningful medical assessment.

“They simply ignored Piper as she slowly and painfully decompensated before them,” the complaint states.

In a response to the complaint, the defendants denied several of the allegations made against them, including claims that they neglected Travis.

In reaching the settlement, the county admitted no wrongdoing. The family agreed to drop all claims against the county.

Attorney Cheryl Snow, representing the family, said the lawsuit also has reached a resolution regarding the other defendants in the case, including medical staffing company Health Pros Northwest. Details of that resolution, and whether those defendants settled as well, were not made public.

On Nov. 20, Travis was booked into the jail on two misdemeanor warrants. She appeared healthy at her bail hearing, the complaint stated.

“During the hearing, Piper conducted herself appropriately, answered questions rationally, and gave no indication whatsoever of illness or medical distress,” plaintiffs wrote.

Her health declined quickly while in custody, the lawsuit alleged. On Nov. 28, a corrections deputy found her crying on the floor, complaining about a bad headache and an “uncommon level of pain.” A nurse gave her ibuprofen, but made no plans to follow up, leaving Travis to make “noises of pain and anguish for hours,” plaintiffs wrote.

In the following days, Travis struggled to respond to directions, talked incoherently and soiled herself. One deputy allegedly wrote that “MAX is a good place for her.”

Medical staff reportedly didn’t take her vital signs until Dec. 1, when they noted that her blood pressure had spiked and that she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in 20 hours.

Jail employees reportedly said that Travis only needed a psychological evaluation and suggested that she was “faking it.”

When emergency responders arrived, Travis was lying on a mattress in her own urine, hyperventilating, foaming at the mouth and experiencing seizure-like symptoms. She had a temperature of 102 degrees and she didn’t respond to verbal cues.

She was transported to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. By Dec. 12, she lost all brain activity. She died four days later.

Conditions at the jail have drawn scrutiny over the past decade. The sheriff’s office instituted significant reforms, many of which followed a string of deaths leading up to 2015. There also have been a number of large settlements with families of inmates who have died behind bars or during booking.

In 2011, Lyndsey Lason, 27, was found dead in her cell, having suffered a lung infection. The county agreed to a $1.3 million settlement, much of which went toward her 11-year-old son.

Michael Saffioti died from possible anaphylactic shock after eating breakfast at the jail in 2012. He was 22. The county paid a $2.3 million settlement in the case.

Another family received a $675,000 settlement for the 2014 death of Marilyn Mowan. The 62-year-old Everett woman died after she drank a lethal amount of water, according to the lawsuit.

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