Amid the arts and crafts and concerts of Hempfest in Seattle this weekend, there will be one group of people delivering a somber message. Friends and family of Keaton Farris, the young man who died of dehydration and malnutrition in an Island County jail earlier this year, will hand out water bottles with his picture on the label as a way to raise awareness about the disturbing circumstances of his death.
Farris, 25, was found dead in his jail cell on Whidbey Island in the early hours of April 8th. His mother, Tiffany Ferrians, said she got a call at 3:00 in the morning letting her know he had died.
“He was dead for hours before they found him, before they called the paramedics – hours,” she said. “They were supposed to be checking on him hourly.”
Farris got picked up in Lynnwood in March after the police received a report of a man acting suspiciously at a bank. They discovered he had an arrest warrant for missing a court hearing. That court hearing related to a charge in San Juan County for allegedly cashing a stolen check.
When the police found him, he was in the midst of what Ferrians calls a bipolar episode. An officer asked him what he was doing, and he said, “I was projecting my thoughts at the people inside,” according to an investigation report by an Island County detective. He also said, “I’m off my meds and I’m pretty anxious right now, but your badge is calming me down.”
But his mother said being in custody exacerbated his mental illness. Farris was transferred from the Lynnwood jail to the Snohomish County jail to the Skagit County jail and finally to the Island County jail.
When she got to see him on April 1st at a court hearing, Ferrians says she was shocked.
`His Hands Were Shackled'
“He turned his head a little bit and said, `Hey Mom,’ when the deputy said, `Keaton, your mom’s here,’ but there he was – four-point restraints, his hands were shackled behind his back, his ankles were shackled together, his hair was covering his face, I couldn’t really even see his eyes,” she said.
It was the last time she saw him alive.
According to an investigation after Farris' death, much went wrong while he was in custody. Among the biggest errors was that he didn’t get enough water.
Water was cut off to his cell at the Island County jail after he put a pillow in his toilet. The detective’s investigation report determined that he was only given at most 75 ounces of fluids over a 100-hour period.
According to the Institute of Medicine, a man his age should have had 521 ounces during that period.
The Island County sheriff has apologized and said Farris didn’t get the care he needed.
“I am truly sorry for this tragic death,” Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said in a statement in June when the investigative report was released. “Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of our inmates and staff and this report describes a systemic breakdown of policies, procedures and communication that led to this tragedy.”
A lieutenant at the jail has been fired, and two deputies resigned after admitting they falsified records to show they conducted more checks on Farris than they actually had.
The Island County prosecuting attorney is examining whether to bring criminal charges, and the FBI is investigating.
Ferrians said one of the many things that disturbs her is that her only child died in custody before ever having a trial.
“If you truly believe in our justice system that you’re innocent until proven guilty, he died an innocent man in jail,” she said.
She and Farris’s father have filed a claim against Island County accusing the guards of negligence. Ferrians said she’s now made it her mission to try to change the way people with mental illness are treated while incarcerated.
“It’s quite a large population of people in jail that suffer from these issues,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to me that we can’t somehow provide some care that’s rehabilitative instead of this punitive attitude.”
This weekend, Ferrians will hand out free water bottles and sell t-shirts with her son’s face on them. The money will go to improve a basketball court on Lopez Island where her son loved to shoot hoops.