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Lawsuit: Snohomish Co. jail sees a rash of inmate deaths

Lawsuit: Snohomish Co. jail sees a rash of inmate deaths (PHOTO: KOMO News)

A Whidbey Island couple has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after the death of their niece after she was an inmate at the Snohomish County Jail.

The lawsuit comes after the jail faced an independent investigation stemming from a rash of inmate deaths.

Piper Travis, 34, was rushed by ambulance from the jail in Dec. 1, 2017. She was diagnosed with sepsis, meningitis and acute respiratory distress, according to the lawsuit filed on Dec. 18. She died two weeks later.

“By the time she got there, there was nothing they could do,” said Paulette Beck, who raised Travis since the woman was a young child. “We sat with her for 10 or 12 days, the three of us, day and night, just in case, she never opened her eyes. She never moved.”

Paulette and Greg Beck said Thursday, jail staff never told them Travis was sick. They said they learned about her medical decline through public records obtained by their lawyers.

“I know from jail records that when she first checked into jail she was healthy,” Paulette Beck said.

But, according to the lawsuit, Travis soon started complaining of a headache, she was delusional and couldn’t use a telephone.

“She was moaning and screaming and crying for days,” Beck said, adding that Travis was in jail awaiting trial on a misdemeanor trespassing charge.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s office declined to comment Thursday, citing pending litigation in the case.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said since 2013 they have made major changes at the jail, after investigations by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office and the National Institute of Corrections.

Ireton said the sheriff’s office has doubled the medical staff at the jail; now do mental health and medical screenings when all inmates are booked; and restrict the number of people being booked into jail when the medical housing quarters are full.

Cheryl Snow and Braden Pence, who are representing the Beck family in the lawsuit, criticized jail staff for failing to treat Travis with dignity.

“What we believe is the jail guards should have treated Piper and everyone else in the Snohomish County Jail with some degree of decency,” Pence said.

Snow, who sued the jail in 2014 after the death of Michael Saffioti, a Mukilteo man who died while in custody, said the pattern of inmate deaths is disturbing.

“There is no county that has faced the number of issues that Snohomish County has faced and the number of deaths,” Snow said Thursday. “People are dying, employees’ actions are being found to support millions of dollars in lawsuits, yet these employees still have their jobs.”

Greg Beck said he wants to see long-term changes made at the jail to protect other families. He said he and his wife raised Travis since she was two. They took her in after her mother, Paulette Beck’s sister and an elder child were killed in a car crash.

“There’s something wrong there. This isn’t the first time, they have a problem there obviously,” Greg Beck said.

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