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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Officials identify Spokane jail inmate who died

Mother says relatives weren’t told right away

A man who died in custody at the Spokane County Jail on Sunday was identified Monday as Christopher J. Parker, 33.

The Washington State Patrol is investigating the incident under the region’s critical incident protocol.

Already, Parker’s mother questions why she wasn’t informed of her son’s death, and the Spokane Fire Department has vowed to examine its procedures to see whether the department erred in not taking Parker to the hospital.

The episode began early Sunday when Parker called 911 to report that he was diabetic and had ingested methamphetamine.

Spokane police responded to a call about a possible overdose at 2121 W. 4th Ave., and Parker was checked out by Spokane fire paramedics.

Assistant Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said, “They did evaluate him for possible ingestion of an unknown substance. I know the paramedics who evaluated him didn’t feel as if he had signs or symptoms that required urgent transport to the hospital. At that point he was released into the care of the SPD.”

Parker was transported to jail and booked on an outstanding arrest warrant.

Parker reportedly became uncooperative, and corrections deputies used a Taser to shock him and placed him in a restraint chair.

Paramedics were called to the Spokane County Jail at 5:11 a.m. by corrections deputies asking for an ambulance for someone having a medical problem. “That call was upgraded at 5:22 a.m. to a more critical call reporting that the patient was unconscious,” Schaeffer said.

At 5:55 a.m. the call came through that no patient transport was required.

After he was restrained, deputies noticed he wasn’t breathing, but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, the Washington State Patrol said. That agency is heading up the investigation under the region’s critical incident protocol.

WSP Trooper Jeff Sevigney said the involved deputies have already been interviewed and investigators have obtained a copy of a video that apparently shows the interaction with Parker. The deputies have not been identified.

Schaeffer said many of those involved in the incident at the fire department won’t work again and be available for interviews until Wednesday, so he doesn’t have all the information that paramedics used to make their judgment that Parker didn’t require further medical attention.

It’s possible that he should have been transported to the hospital, Schaeffer said. “Looking through the retrospective glasses it’s easy to say yes.”

But each case is different, and “I don’t know what the dialogue was,” Schaeffer said. “If someone says they don’t want to go to the hospital and they are not exhibiting symptoms or signs … but it’s too early to say.”

He added, “If there is something here where we made a clinical judgment that was wrong … we will own it and make it better. We will not make excuses.”

Parker’s mother, Christina Higgins, who lives in Arkansas, said she was upset because family members weren’t immediately notified of Parker’s death.

Investigators didn’t return her call Sunday night, she said, and wouldn’t confirm the information for Parker’s father, who visited Spokane County Jail Sunday evening.

“There is no reason why they did not notify us. No reason whatsoever. I’m mad,” Higgins said.

She said she was told that the Washington State Patrol couldn’t speak for the Sheriff’s Office, but that WSP detectives were cleared to notify family members had they encountered any during their investigation.

Sevigney noted that Parker has a lengthy criminal history. He was arrested in 1998 and convicted of felony assault after breaking a man’s arm. He also has convictions for violating protection orders in 2004 and 2007. As such, there were multiple entries in court records listing next-of-kin information.

Sevigney said that information was forwarded to the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, which is in charge of family notification after a body has been transported there.

“I hadn’t heard that someone actually went to the jail. I can’t comment on that,” Sevigney said.

Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Mark Gregory did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Monday. But Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich apologized to Parker’s family over an entry visible on the jail’s website for a short time that Parker had been released, with the reason for release listed as “death.”

“When we learned about the posting under Mr. Parker’s name on our website, we took steps to remove it and make sure this does not happen again.  This should not have happened and we want to express our sincere apologies to Mr. Parker’s family for any pain this caused,” the sheriff said in a prepared statement.

Reporter Jennifer Pignolet contributed to this report.
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