Island County in-custody death should lead to more citizen oversight


Island County Jail personnel found one of their inmates, 25-year-old Keaton Farris of Lopez Island, dead on April 8. According to the investigative report, Island County Jail personnel had taken custody of Farris on March 26, as a transfer from the Skagit County Jail.

The course of events leading to Farris’ death were outlined in detail in an internal investigative report. But while possible solutions are introduced, what is clear is that more oversight and citizen input is required.

During the two weeks Farris was in custody at Island County Jail, he apparently presented quite a challenge for jail personnel, repeatedly removing his clothing and blocking the toilet facilities in his cell, causing flooding.

Because the flooding represented both health and safety challenges for jail personnel, Farris, and other inmates, jail personnel turned off the water to Farris’ cell. Farris reportedly died, at least in part, from dehydration.

By all accounts, Farris was a very troubled person, suffering from all sorts of physical, mental, and/or emotional challenges. He was reportedly taking an anti-anxiety prescription medication called lorazepam.

It would appear as if Farris’ challenges were noted (and documented) by law enforcement personnel from the moment he was initially taken into custody by Lynwood PD on March 20. When, during the initial contact, Lynwood officers asked Farris what he was doing, Farris said that he had been “projecting (his) thoughts” at people in a nearby bank and also told them that he was “off (his) meds” and “feeling pretty anxious.”

At Farris’ next stop, the Snohomish County Jail (SnoCJ), he was placed in an Observational Unit due to his “mental status.” SnoCJ personnel also documented the opinion that Farris was “gravely disabled” and “presented symptoms consistent with psychosis.” At SnoCJ, a mental health professional named Hoover observed Farris for 30 minutes and cleared him for transport to Skagit County on the “Cooperative Transport.”

When Farris arrived at Skagit County Jail (SkaCJ), he was uncommunicative and in a “restraint chair,” and the transport personnel told SkaCJ personnel that Farris had been “Tasered” the previous day at SnoCJ. When SkaCJ personnel tried to prepare Farris for transport to Island County, Farris actively resisted and tried to bite one of the deputies.

Farris was eventually moved to Island County Jail (ICJ) by San Juan County Deputies (Farris’ felony arrest warrant had been issued in San Juan County). Farris reportedly actively resisted these deputies, trying to kick one of them.

Upon receipt, ICJ staff immediately placed Farris in a “blue padded cell.” Between his arrival at ICJ and his death there, there are numerous documented reports of Farris behaving both uncooperatively and violently, stuffing bedding materials and food into his toilet and some sort of cloth in his own mouth.

On April 6, a doctor from Western State Hospital, named Hendrickson, tried to interview Farris for a court-ordered competency hearing. The doctor described Farris as laying “naked on the floor of his cell, talking continuously to himself, as if he were speaking to a person in the cell.”

ICJ Det. Wallace would later report that on April 7, the day before Farris was found dead, there were “multiple gaps where the hourly checks were not being conducted and several documented checks were determined not to have been done.”

There are also indications that the water which jail personnel provided Farris was far below the amount recommended by either FEMA or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates, although, to be fair, Wallace points out, that it is difficult to accurately calculate the amount of water Farris actually consumed, for several reasons. There are notes that Farris spilled some of the water he was provided and there was also a period during which jail personnel restored the water service in his cell. Farris’ water intake could not possibly be monitored or accurately quantified during that period.

Wallace’s report makes it clear that there were procedures in place — in all jurisdictions involved — to observe, document, and take action on inmates experiencing emotional or mental health challenges.

In some cases, those procedures were followed, and in other cases, it appears, they were not.

It struck me that mental health professionals observed and documented significant challenges with Farris on at least two occasions but that, despite their concerns, Farris was never transferred to a facility that might have been better-equipped to monitor and provide effective (if secure) medical care for people with these sorts of issues.

A padded cell is all well and good, but if an inmate like Farris is not made to take the drugs he has been prescribed, his mental or emotional condition is only going to degrade.

Similarly, providing an inmate like Farris with cups of water is all well and good, but if no one is making sure that he actually consumes it and stays hydrated, no amount of provided cups is going to suffice.

Many jurisdictions around the nation maintain secure “custody wards” in their county hospitals. These counties staff them with custody personnel as in any jail, but also with medical and mental health personnel to deal directly with those, like Farris, who are experiencing significant challenges in these areas.

In such a guarded medical facility, medical professionals can make sure inmates like Farris take their needed medication and can keep them sedated and fed and hydrated intravenously if that’s what it takes to ensure their physical well-being.

The cost to maintain such a facility can be great, but what is the inevitable wrongful death suit going to cost Island County and its taxpayers? It is reasonable to expect that settlement or award will be considerable, and it probably should be.

Still, no improved facilities are going to help if they do not exist, and no procedures are going to help if they are not followed. Island County Sheriff Mark Brown has already acknowledged what he called “systemic failures” that contributed to Farris’ tragic death. He has detailed numerous reforms he has already undertaken to correct those failures within his control, and we have no reason to doubt he is doing all he can.

As for any consequences, as of this writing, the jail chief has retired, the second-in-command supervisor was fired and two corrections deputies who falsified logs have quit.

Such are the administrative consequences to date. Whether anyone will be charged with any criminal violations is yet to be determined, though Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks is reviewing the case.

One final suggestion that may help Brown restore, maintain and improve public opinion and confidence: a greater degree of citizen oversight. Whether this takes the form of a citizens’ advisory committee that he creates and appoints, or a commission, with statutory authority to review sheriff’s operations and provide oversight.

Whatever happens going forward, I think it’s clear some significant changes are in store at our Sheriff’s Office, and, moving forward, this can only be a good thing for public safety in Island County.

  • Columnist JOHN B.GREET is a retired police sergeant from Southern California who now lives on Whidbey Island. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management.


  1. It is good to see we have a new news source other than the three already here and all coming from the same narrative. Like the Fox news Fair and balanced. We sure need an independent one., not one tied into the corrupt justice system that is Whidbey presently.

  2. The hearing at oak harbor library to address the sheriff departments failures was cover vour ass at its best, with Brown refusing to step down and Greg saying he was still unvestigating. The Buck Stops with those two and nurse Rachet who could not even bother to get up close and personal, why was she given another paid vacation instead of her walking papers? I speak with first hand knowledge of all three poor excuses and it is time for a clean up of the jail before someone else dies.
    Brown defended the no body cams on a false premise of an invasion of privacy. How about self defense for both the officers and the public. I have found it necessary to provide my own for defense from an overreaching PA.Yes mr Banks is trying real hard, at the behest of the Dutch Mafia and Van Kellum, to put this 72 year old widow back in HIS JAIL [THE BELLY OF THE BEAST]
    Just as I am now doing with this comment, I am taking my story public, to reveal the true corruption in Island Countys Judicial. We are producing a you tube tell all in an effort to receive a modicum of justice and safety from the Malicious Prosecution I have had to endure.
    Stay Tuned
    Respectfully submitted by Carol Magee
    ANyone wishing to contact me with their stories about the Mafia can call 360 232 4753

  3. “We have no reason to doubt he is doing all he can?” This is the same sheriff that was in charge, when Greg McBride died of neglect as well, and several of the same employees were culpable in that death, without any disciplinary action or criminal charges. The neglect is eerily similar. Where does the blame lay now? There are some great points in this article, but that statement alone brings one to question the source of the article. Not to mention there is a lot of speculation in regards to Keaton’s behavior, there are virtually no documented incidents of violence while in Island County custody, aside from some after the fact “oh I heard that he did this, and someone said he did this”. There were problems when he was moved or manhandled, but why are we moving a “gravely disabled” person over and over in the first place? The intention of the article and suggesting some citizen oversight is spot on, and I for one welcome a new news-source to the island. What’s missing is the human aspect, this wasn’t someone who was debilitated daily by their “mental health” disorder and that’s probably beside the point anyways, as is the fact that his crime was a $355 property crime and he’d never been arrested, or convicted of a crime before (he was actually being held on a failure to appear and was picked up the same day his hearing was scheduled). But again, like I said that is all beside the point, all inmates deserve proper care and attention, and yes some need more. The article refers to him taking off his clothes, he was never issued “clothes” but left naked with a suicide smock his entire stay in their custody. This was a human being whose water source was turned off and he wasn’t offered near enough water to survive. The water was turned off in his cell the entire last 3 days in custody, and never turned on again(not even for meal times). His first encounter with a nurse was in his 12th day at ICJ, the day before he died, and it lasted admittedly for 2 minutes through a small glass window. He told the nurse, “great finally a medical professional” and replied to the question “how are you doing?”, with “Not good.” The family was repeatedly denied visitation and was told all along “he’s fine, just not communicating with us the way we’d like” and “and yes we have a nurse on duty who attends to all our inmates”. He laid dead in his cell for at least 5 hours before anyone called the paramedics. This is subhuman treatment and there are no excuses for this EVER. If someone was caught treating a prisoner of war like that, they would go to jail for life. Is this the way we expect our police and health care public employees to treat our fellow citizens? Is this something all of us can sit back and accept? I’ll be the first to say there is a systemic problem in this state and country when it comes to the mentally ill being housed in jails, and hope that we can fix that soon. What happened here can not be put in that basket, this was a handful of individuals that made decisions that directly contributed to a fellow human’s death. This has affected many of us, this was a young man who was not only close to his family, but was loved by hundreds of friends and community members. An intelligent, articulate, compassionate, young man full of life. A life that he won’t be able to see through, grow, learn, and reap the joys of raising a family. That same joy he brought to me, his father for the last 25 years, and forever more. The family will forever regret trusting those in charge of his well being, and it will be a long road to finding trust in our police and judicial system, if that can ever be obtained at all. There are a lot of great police officers and nurses, those that work with the integrity, compassion and patience their job demands. I’d like to give thanks to those great folks, your service is both honorable and commendable. Blessings fellow Island County Residents, it’s time for us to start demanding change and restore honor and integrity to this beautiful place we call home.

  4. Julie O'Brien on

    The “21st Century Policing: Big Job, Big Questions” public forum on Thursday, July 30th was well attended with many people present wearing Keaton’s “I See Your Hate and Raise You One Love” T-shirts.
    Greg Banks, Island County Prosecuting Attorney, and Mark Brown, Island County Sheriff, chatted it up, sharing laughs the half hour before the forum got under way. While I appreciate the friendship that comes out of their agencies working closely together, that friendship makes me question Greg Banks’ ability to objectively look at what happened on Mark Brown’s watch.

    Greg Banks closed his opening statement making it clear he and Mark Brown would not be answering questions concerning the death of Keaton Farris. This was a surprise given the topic of the forum. Not one of the folks wearing Keaton’s t-shirts were called on during the open Q&A session.

    When asked who monitors police actions, panel member Chris Carney, ACLU lawyer, brought up Citizen Review Boards and reforms in LAPD. Those reforms were strongly resisted by the LAPD. Today the results are in and those reforms have resulted in fewer injuries and confrontations by police officers and the citizens they serve. Watching Greg Banks rolling his eyes while Chris Carney spoke was revealing to this audience member. It showed a lack of respect to Chris but also to us, the audience and to the people who pay the taxes that fund his office.

    We cannot trust that our community members and loved ones with mental illness could be safe inside Island County Jail when there are still plenty of employees there who witnessed the abuse and negligence (in Keaton’s case – death) that has been going on in there for years. Jail employees either participated in or turned their backs on what their fellow employees were doing. Until Mark Brown’s own officers and the jail staff can be strong enough to out the misuse of power initiated by their own co-workers, there is no going forward. In the meantime, setting up a Citizen Review Board may be the thing to do.

    Julie O’Brien
    Clinton, WA

  5. Mr Ferris,
    I am so sorry for your loss, but you will not get the truth from Greg Banks or Sheriff Brown. It is all about the money. It is a privately owned jail and a real money maker by selling the bonds on wall street. To suggest the jail is the best and safest place for an emotionally disturbed loved one is ludicrous, and criminal.
    The FBI needs to be made aware of the depth of corruption on the island and me speaking openly is dangerous to me and any other coming under their control if I am not taken seriously
    At this time they are once again bring bogus charges of criminal trespass by me,on the state,with no probable cause
    . I served 4 months in jail for allegedly posting on someones Facebook while under a no contact
    ,It has come to my attention that the sheriffs ICOM said I was arrested twice for the same. IT NEVER HAPPENED.
    The trial was a charade, with judge Hawkins removing all my witnesses, forbiddding me to speak about being sent to jail twice at $55,000 bail with no probable cause in the year to a day before we went to trial. the plaintiffs Becky Davis and Travis Hilkey both lied on the stand saying I had come out to their homes { Hilkry is judge Hancocks cousin}
    Lets talk about the complete lack of virtue in the judicial , greg Banks and sheriff Brown.The judges are all part of the Dutch Mafia and play free and loose with their relatives adversaries and their own criminal behavior. Are judge Hancock’s ears burning about his Hilkey cousins, or Vickey’s town drunk husband with a clean DUI test?
    It is way past time to clean house on Island County

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