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Seventh Spokane County Jail inmate dies in 14 months

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 9, 2018, 8:36 p.m.

FILE - The Spokane County Jail, shown Thursday, June 28, 2018. Seven inmates have died here in 14 months. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - The Spokane County Jail, shown Thursday, June 28, 2018. Seven inmates have died here in 14 months. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane County Jail inmate died in his cell early Wednesday morning following a fight with another cellmate.

Deputy Mark Gregory, spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said the man was housed in a 10-person cell in the jail’s annex, which is part of the Spokane County Public Safety Building. At about 1:30 a.m., he reportedly requested medical help after having trouble breathing following a brief fistfight with another inmate minutes before.

Gregory said medical personnel, including the jail’s staff nurse, responded, and found a pool of blood on the floor. They provided medical treatment, but as his condition worsened, paramedics were called. Efforts to save his life were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at about 2:15 a.m.

The death is the seventh in the facility in the past 14 months. Since June 15, 2017, three inmates have hanged themselves with bedsheets. One man died in the jail’s booking area in March of causes that remain to be determined, another in June of this year possibly as the result of an attack by his cellmate. Two weeks ago, a 26-year-old woman was found dead in her cell, also of causes that have yet to be determined.

Gregory said several inmates witnessed the altercation and were cooperative with investigators. Neither of the inmates’ names were released, though in a news release county officials said the inmate who was killed was being held on two felony charges and awaiting trial. The other inmate who was involved in the fight has not been charged but remains a part of the investigation.

The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office will release a cause and manner of death.

The recent string of deaths and suicides at the jail have come under scrutiny by a number of families of the inmates, who question if enough is being done to prevent them. In late June, and in response to a string of hangings, the jail announced it would remove bedsheets from the facility and hire a suicide-prevention expert.

Sgt. Tom Hill, spokesman for the downtown jail, said in mid-July he planned to review the circumstances of each death, possibly with the help of a consultant, to learn if and how they might have been prevented.

In a prepared statement, John McGrath, director of the detention services department, said the deaths have “hastened our focus on enlisting the help of nationally recognized consultants” to address county policies on suicide prevent and medical emergencies.

In addition to providing medical staff with buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid dependency, McGrath said in September the county plans to hire Lindsay M. Hayes, a suicide prevent specialist and the director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, according to her staff description on the organization’s website.

“This is a tragedy that Spokane County Detention Services takes very seriously,” he said in the statement. “Any death that occurs while in custody is tragic and we do everything in our power to prevent inmates from causing harm to themselves or others.”

Commissioner Josh Kerns, in another statement, said while it was “too early to draw conclusions about (the) incident,” the Board of County Commissioners is committed to implementing new practices.

Staff writer Chad Sokol contributed to this report.