The Snohomish County Sherriff''s Office announced yesterday that it had completed its investigation into the jail death of Michael Saffioti, a 22-year-old who met his demise after turning himself in on a marijuana possession charge. No criminal wrongdoing was turned up by the sheriff's major crimes unit, according to The Everett Herald.
One can't help thinking nonetheless that a crime has occurred.
Saffioti died July 3 after eating a morning breakfast of oatmeal. He had been in jail exactly one day. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner determined that a severe allergic reaction to milk products was a contributing factor.
Saffioti's allergies were well known. According to the Herald, during a previous stint in jail, inmates had dubbed him "Bubble Boy" because his food had to be wrapped in plastic to avoid contaminants.
Portland's KATU-TV interviewed Saffioti's mother Rose in October and found out more about his medical condition. From the station's report:
Michael Saffioti knew dairy could kill him. He grew up reading labels and carrying medication, and still suffered severe reactions whenever he was merely near dairy protein. The stress made him anxious to the point of needing medication.
"Ultimately, he found and thought he was better functioning using marijuana," said his mother.
Michael did not have a medical marijuana prescription, and his use put him in and out of the legal system. In the most recent incident, he and his mother went to police, armed with his medical history after he had missed a court date.
"I wanted Michael held accountable for his legal issues and I insisted on it. But I didn't want him to die," said Rose."
The account goes on to say that Saffioti called for help when he started having breathing problems during breakfast, but was accused of faking it by guards.
Unsurprisingly., Saffioti's mother is now talking about a lawsuit against the county. Her family has retained high-profile attorney Anne Bremner to represent them. Undoubtedly, such a suit would charge the county with neglect.
Whether that's proved or not, what makes this case seem like a crime, in the broadest sense of the word, is that Saffioti died for a piddly marijuana possession charge. It's like Victor Hugo's Jean Viljean, in the novel now receiving Hollywood treatment, Les Misérables, being pursued all his life for stealing a loaf of bread.
The tragic irony is that had Saffioti waited a half-year to turn himself in, he would have found that marijuana possession, thanks to I-502, was no longer even illegal.