On June 13, 2018, Shane Carson lay on the bottom bunk in a cell at the Spokane County Jail, convulsing, hyperventilating and sweating profusely.
Several agonizing hours later, he was dead.
The 31-year-old overdosed on methamphetamine and some type of opioid, according to records recently disclosed by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
But at the time, corrections officers believed Carson was “detoxing” or experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and they dismissed the concerns of his cellmate, who tried to get him help, the records show.
“He might have died anyway, but they should have taken him to the hospital,” said Carson’s mother, Yvonne Wilson. “He should have at least been afforded the opportunity to see a doctor.”
Carson – one of eight Spokane County inmates to die in a 14-month period – was booked sometime after 10:30 a.m. after he was arrested for a parole violation. In September, Carson and another man had entered pleas for an assault in Bonner County.
His cellmate, Trevor Primeau, told detectives that Carson stumbled into their cell before lying down on the bottom bunk. Primeau said there was obviously something wrong with Carson, so he tried to get the attention of corrections officers on at least two occasions.
But officers said Carson was just “detoxing” and told Primeau not to worry about it. One officer said he had questioned Carson, but Carson wouldn’t say much beyond “DTing,” a term for withdrawal. (Opioid withdrawal also can be deadly.)
Resigned, Primeau lay down on the top bunk and tried to tune out the sound of Carson’s labored breathing.
Primeau also asked to be moved to a different cell. By the time officers came to grant his request, Carson had been still and silent for about 10 minutes, Primeau told detectives. Carson’s face had turned blue, and there was a shallow cut on his forehead, apparently from hitting it on his desk or bed frame.
More officers and paramedics rushed to Carson’s cell, but they couldn’t resuscitate him. At first, investigators thought Primeau might have assaulted Carson, but they found no evidence to support that theory and quickly ruled it out.
According to sheriff’s office records, an inmate from a neighboring cell later told his girlfriend, in a recorded phone call from jail: “The dude was screaming for help for an hour and they never came and helped him. … They gave him CPR for 45 minutes and he was (expletive) dead.” Other records from the investigation make no mention of a person screaming.
Carson had three children with two women. In interviews in July, they both described him as a doting father who made bad choices as he fell into the clutches of addiction.
“He had issues, but he didn’t deserve to die like that,” Wilson said. “Nobody deserves to die like that – not even my worst enemy.”
Spokane County attorney Steve Kinn said officials couldn’t discuss the circumstances of Carson’s death.
Drugs may have been smuggled
Records indicate Carson may have smuggled the drugs into jail inside his body cavity. An autopsy, however, found no foreign objects in his gastrointestinal tract. It’s unclear whether he consumed the drugs before or after he was booked.
It wouldn’t be the first or last time someone succeeded in smuggling drugs and other items into the downtown detention facility.
In February, sheriff’s detectives began investigating after corrections officers found a cellphone and Suboxone strips in a cell shared by two men. Suboxone is a drug used for treating opioid addiction, but it also can be abused.
In March, a 24-year-old woman who had been in jail for seven weeks was caught with meth, according to court records. She had hidden it in a body cavity in the tip of a rubber glove, which she got from working in the jail’s laundry room.
And in early May, corrections officers used Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, to rescue three women who were found unconscious after taking an unknown powdery substance in the jail.
Mike Sparber, interim director of Spokane County Detention Services, praised those officers for their fast life-saving efforts. All three women were hospitalized but survived.
Inmates are subjected to pat-downs and strip searches when they enter the jail and when corrections officers have reason to suspect drug use. Officers also conduct random shakedowns of cells and use Spokane police dogs to sniff around the facility.
In an interview Friday, Sparber said there hasn’t necessarily been a spike in contraband drug use at the jail, though he said officials have begun considering new ways to stem the flow of illicit substances.
He noted that constitutional protections prohibit jail staff from conducting invasive cavity searches without a warrant and a physician present, something that happens only rarely.
“If it’s secreted up inside their bodies, the only way you’re going to detect those things is with an X-ray machine, similar to what airports use when you’re passing through the security gate,” Sparber said.
In September, after a man died of an opioid overdose in the Grant County Jail, officials there allocated $371,000 to purchase an X-ray scanner for the booking area to detect items hidden in body cavities, as well as a second scanner to check inmates’ mail.
Spokane County spokesman Jared Webley noted that officials have taken steps to prevent people in jail from dying.
Last fall they brought in a consultant, Lindsay Hayes, who issued a series of recommendations aimed at preventing suicides. They stopped issuing bedsheets to inmates, instead providing thicker blankets that are harder to tear and wrap around one’s neck. And all jail staff were required to undergo four hours of suicide prevention training.
Additionally, the jail has installed cameras to monitor each cell in the booking area, and new 15-minute timers help ensure inmates are checked at regular intervals. A few inmates have begun taking part in a medication-assisted addiction treatment program run by the Spokane Regional Health District and the jail’s medical provider, NaphCare Inc.
County Commissioner Mary Kuney said she and other local officials visited the jail in Montgomery County, Maryland, last month to learn more about “best practices” in jail safety.
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