King County Jail Death: Female Inmate Dies One Month After Feds OK Jail Safety Reforms

A month after Justice Department investigators gave final approval to civil rights and life-saving reforms at King County Jail, another inmate has died. The death this week comes six months after the jail suicide of another inmate that occurred during the federal monitoring period - one of five prisoners who died while U.S. officials were overseeing new safety and medical procedures at the downtown Seattle lockup the past two years.

The latest to die, says jail spokesperson Maj. William Hayes, was a 41-year-old Seattle woman who had been booked into the facility last week, March 20, for investigation of felony domestic violence assault. In a news release, Hayes reports that:

On Friday morning, March 23, an officer found the woman in medical distress in her cell and called for assistance. Jail Health staff and Medic One responded to the scene and the woman was rushed to Harborview, where she died Monday, March 26 at 6:19 p.m.

Hayes says the King County Medical Examiner is attempting to determine the manner and cause of death, and is seeking permission from family members to release further details. The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention will also conduct an internal investigation.

The DoJ assumed oversight of the jail as part of a legal agreement, finding that suicides and unsafe conditions were effectively violating inmate civil rights at the 25-year-old facility, with an average monthly inmate count of 1,320. Medical errors and procedural breakdowns date back decades. A reminder came last month when a Seattle woman was awarded $975,000 in damages for civil rights violations from 1997 when jail staff locked the pregnant inmate in a cell and ignored her for six days; she got help only after a guard heard a newborn baby crying.

In a February letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine, the DoJ said the county had finally "fulfilled all outstanding obligations" under an agreement to end abuses, unsafe conditions and civil rights violations in the jail, and that the government "considers this matter closed."

Constantine hailed the monitoring closure, saying "These findings from the Justice Department affirm the reforms we've made in two short years, while reminding us that effective reform must be ongoing and consistent over the long haul."

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