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Director Out at Scandal-Plagued Washington State Jail

Amid numerous scandals and investigations into wrongdoing and prisoner mistreatment by staff, the director of the Snohomish County jail in Everett, WA was relieved of her duties in mid-April 2003. Corrections department director Andrea Bynum was fired due to her mismanagement of the jail.

No less than five active investigations are underway by the Everett police department into alleged criminal or sexual misconduct committed by staff at the county jail. The scandals occurring on Bynum's watch include the "disappearance" of $10,000 in bail money, the parading of naked female prisoners in an open-air courtyard, a female jail cook forcing sex on male prisoners, three suspicious prisoner deaths caused by apparent medical neglect, a severe nursing shortage, and yet another investigation into an alleged lesbian relationship between a guard and a prisoner.

In an interview, Bynum's attorney, Mitch Codgill, seems to blame most of the jail's problems on overcrowding, noting that the 477-bed jail, originally designed for half that number, routinely houses more than 600 prisoners. "It's a time bomb waiting to happen," Codgill said. "It's understaffed and it has been that way for a long time."

But the volume and types of misconduct jail staff are currently being investigated for, seem to indicate the problem is overcrowding compounded by mismanagement and staff malfeasance and neglect.

Suspicious Deaths of

Three Prisoners

Diane Katherine Stults, 45, was booked into the Snohomish County jail in February of this year on burglary charges. Upon admission she informed jail staff of her medication needs. Having no bunk available for her, Stults was assigned to a mattress on the floor of the women's housing module. According to witnesses, Stults repeatedly asked jail staff for her medication but nobody gave it to her. She then lay on her mattress for over 10 hours before another prisoner noticed she "smelled funny" and was unresponsive.

A medical examiner's report later indicated that Stults died from dehydration and possible drug withdrawal. Other reports indicate that Stults was throwing up all day long and instead of medication, all she got from jail staff was a garbage bag to throw up in. Stults' family indicated she had been taking several drugs to combat Lyme disease and kidney and stomach ailments. None of the drugs were provided to her by the jail.

The prisoner reported the situation to jail staff but paramedics were unable to revive Stults. She was last seen conscious at 11:15 a.m.. on February 11, 2003, and was not found dead until 9:45 p.m. that night. Her medications had been denied the entire time and no staff had even checked on her. It was not known how long Stults had been dead before the other prisoner found her. The Major Crimes Unit of the Everett police is currently investigating her death.

The second female jail prisoner died just over a month later. Police became involved in this second death as well at the urging of Dr. Norman Thiersch, the county's medical examiner.

Joy Saunders Miller, 42, died at an Everett hospital March 19, 2003, after a two-day stay at the jail. She had been locked up since Feb. 26 at the smaller Lynnwood city jail, but was transferred to the Snohomish County jail after being taken to the hospital for an illness. Doctors at the hospital pronounced her "fit for jail" and then she was transported to the Snohomish County jail where better medical facilities were supposed to be available.

But Miller was quickly rushed back to the hospital only two days later, and died the next day from what police confirmed was a lethal dose of acetaminophen, otherwise known as Tylenol. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office told Miller's father that she died from liver and kidney failure due to the large dose of acetaminophen.

The medical examiner's office has termed the death "suspicious" and notified police. Miller's death was not believed to have been suicide, because notes and letters recovered from her cell indicated she was looking forward to having her children back and had been in an alcohol rehabilitation program.

Snohomish County jail spokeswoman Susan Neely said she could not determine if Miller was given the drug during her brief stay at the jail, or during her earlier stay at the Lynnwood jail.

On May 14, 2003, an unidentified 66 year old man awaiting trial on child rape charges collapsed and died of a heart attack in the jail's medical unit. Despite complaining of chest pains, he received no care at the jail. Fire fighters gave him CPR enroute to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Missing Bail Money

In late February 2003, a prisoner being held on drug charges posted $10,000 cash to pay his bail. But when police detectives arrived at the jail just a week later with a court order authorizing seizure of the money, it was gone. Property crimes detectives are now investigating the money's disappearance but have yet to find an innocuous explanation.

Jail staff are attempting to blame the missing money on a "bookkeeping error" or a "paperwork foul-up."

The money was placed into a jail safe and was being held for detectives who indicated they planned to seize it as suspected drug profits. The cash then disappeared before police got there to seize it, and police Sgt. Boyd Bryant said detectives plan to talk to a "large number of [jail staff] they need to talk to."

But the missing bail money is far from the first thing to go missing from jail coffers. In recent years, the county has paid over $3,700 in claims from prisoners whose property was lost or stolen. Among the payouts was $1,200 to a Seattle woman whose gold necklace and pendant disappeared from the jail in April 2002. Wristwatches, sneakers, and wallets have also been taken, or lost, by someone at the jail. County officials blame the vast majority of these cases of missing property on "honest errors" and overcrowding. Prisoner financial records are kept in disorganized paper files.

Sexual Misconduct by Jail Staff

The daughter of a high-ranking jail official, who worked as a cook in the jail's kitchen, may face custodial sexual misconduct charges stemming from her aggressive sexual behavior directed towards male prisoners at the jail. The cook, whose name has not been released, has been the subject of three separate police investigations since October 2002 on allegations she was fondling male prisoners and offering to perform sex acts on them.

Police have recommended to prosecutors that the 37-year-old woman face four counts of misdemeanor sexual misconduct charges. Washington state recently criminalized sexual contact between jail staff and prisoners, even if the contact is consensual. The cook has not yet been arrested.

One of the prisoners who complained about the cook's behavior was 44-year-old Scott Young of Everett. Young spent nearly six months in the jail in 2002 on driving charges. Young said he saw the cook disappear for lengthy periods of time into a back room with other prisoners. He also said prisoners routinely bragged about getting extra food for sexual favors from the cook.

Other prisoners reported the cook would constantly rub up against them, grab their genitals, and offer then contraband such as cigarettes in exchange for sexual contact.

However, despite all these complaints, and despite the illegal nature of the cook's conduct, police expressed concerns because the cook's own relative was involved in the jail's internal investigation, police weren't notified for several months after the allegations surfaced, and prisoners who had complained were retaliated against by jail staff.

For example, Young was immediately dismissed as a jail trustee following his complaints, then moved to different part of the jail until he ended up in 23-hour lockdown in the maximum security unit of the jail. The lockdown "was out of the blue" and did not follow rule violations on Young's part. Young said he was told he was placed in segregation for his "own safety" at the request of classifications officials. But he was returned to general population within a week after other officials questioned his placement. Young then requested placement back in solitary confinement when other prisoners labeled him a snitch for informing an the cook.

Police referred the cases to the county prosecutor in December 2002 and as yet no decision has been made as to what charges, if any, the cook will face. Bynum later said that assigning the cook's relative to assign the investigation did not constitute a conflict of interest. But Neely said it was improper for the high-ranking relative to have any involvement in the investigation whatsoever. The Snohomish County Executive's Office has asked Everett police to investigate why it took months for jail officials to alert police that the cook allegedly broke the law.

Another ongoing police investigation is exploring the alleged consensual relationship between a female jail guard and a former female prisoner. Although not indicating exactly when the relationship occurred, Neely did say that it happened over "a span of time." Neely said that as soon as jail officials learned of the situation they immediately reported it to detectives.

On May 16, 2003, Paul Wentland, 56, pleaded guilty to one count of sexual misconduct. Wentland, a nurse at the jail, accepted oral sex on 6 occassions from a 29 year old female prisoner in exchange for giving her narcotic pills in 2000. The exchange came to light when Wentland short changed her and did not provide the pills he promised. The prisoner mailed Wentland's semen to a friend for safekeeping. The letter was returned to the jail where staff opened and inspected it. An investigation ensued and DNA tests confirmed the semen was Wentland's. He was charged with 3 felony counts of first degree sexual misconduct. In exchange for his plea to one misdemeanor charge the felony charges were dropped. Wentland was sentenced to one year in jail on July 29, 2003.

On June 21, 2003, the woman, unidentified in media reports and court filings filed a $25 million claim for damages against Snohomish county stemming from her sex for drugs exchange with Wentland. Another female prisoner told police that in April or May 2000 she had woken up to find Wentland fondling her breasts.

The Parading of Nude

Female Prisoners

Two former female prisoners are suing the county alleging they were forced to strip naked in an outdoor recreation area in full view of male guards. The lawsuit, which was filed February 14, 2003, in Seattle, charges that Bynum and three guards violated their civil rights by ordering the women to line up, disrobe in groups, and march to the open-air recreation area to get clean clothes. The suit also alleges negligence and reckless infliction of emotional distress.

The jail had since abandoned this practice since it garnered media attention three years ago, but the plaintiffs, Stacy Toikka, 30, and Gaylene Crommett, 45, filed the suit because they "are reluctant to stand by and watch this happen to them and other women."

The lawsuit details how on Feb. 16, 2000, the women "were forced to completely disrobe and march, single file, outside into an open courtyard while suffering verbal abuse and degrading comments and slurs from corrections officers." The former prisoners then filed damage claims of $2 million with the county. Negotiations ensued, but the parties were not able to reach a settlement. The women were not seeking $2 million during the settlement talks.

The case was then investigated for "some time" by Auburn attorney Jennifer Apitz, who filed the current suit. Apitz said she believes the real problem is "a lack a supervision, a lack of protocol" at the jail. Apitz noted that the women were detainees who had not been convicted of any crime.

The jail also faces hundreds of other civil claims from both prisoners and guards, including one by former prisoner Christopher Wirtz, who suffered a massive seizure at the jail in 2001 after being denied his necessary medication. His suit is pending in federal district court in Seattle.

Nursing Shortage

In addition to all of these problems, the jail is also suffering from an extreme shortage of qualified nurses. The jail, which is supposed to staff 7 1/2 nursing positions, currently only has three of those spots filled. The result is prisoners don't get the medical treatment and evaluation they need, sometimes leading to tragic consequences such as those detailed earlier in this article.

Jail officials say that three of the nursing slots have been empty for two months and that one nurse quit after only two days on the job. Most candidates never make it past the front door, according to Suzanne Klaas, the jail's administrative services manager.

Again, it's overcrowding. "We have had nurses withdraw at that point when they saw the overcrowded conditions and when they saw the conditions that they would be working in," Klaas said. Klass noted that nursing candidates touring the jail often have to step over and between prisoners sleeping on the floor.

As a result, the county is forced to contract with outside nursing agencies, which cost taxpayers an additional $180,000 in 2002. Neely says she does not believe the nursing shortage contributed to the three recent prisoner deaths. She did not indicate if Wentlands position had been filled yet.

Jail Conditions

Rod Miller is a trainer for the National Institute of Corrections and has toured over 900 jails in his 30-year career.

But after his recent visit to the Snohomish County jail, he told county officials he had trouble sleeping. The overcrowding "is some of the worst" he has ever seen, he said.

Despite all of the substantiated allegations at the problem-plagued jail, Bynum continued to vehemently deny any wrongdoing on the part of her or her staff. Instead, in a memo written to staff just before her termination, Bynum wrote that jail staff had "been faced with a barrage of misinformation and allegations, from the media and other sources, which may have led some of us and others to question our ability to operate this facility."

Bynum was previously employed by the state Department of Corrections as superintendent of the now trouble-plagued Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen. That facility now suffers from overcrowding, with over 1,600 prisoners squeezed into poorly designed dining halls and recreation facilities clearly designed for a population half that size. Bynum was superintendent at Stafford Creek during its design and construction phase and left the post before the facility actually opened. Fights and conflicts are routine at Stafford Creek where staff rush to attempt to feed so many people in small dining halls where there is often nowhere to sit and where the tables are so close together that for a day to pass without a fight is the exception rather than the rule.

On April 15, 2003, Neely simply said that, "Effective today, corrections director Bynum has left employment. We're . . . leaving it at that." Bynum was paid $119,062 a year as director of the jail, a position that jail program manager Randy Finsen agreed to assume on an interim basis.

Prior to leaving, Bynum wrote a letter to Neely in which Bynum blamed leaks to newspapers by guards who are the focus of internal discipline as the cause of the jail's problems. Bynum characterized it as a plot to "divert attention away from themselves" and discredit their supervisors.

But Neely said she was troubled by what Bynum wrote, saying Bynum should have been more concerned with what was going on at the jail than who was saying what to the media.

Results of ongoing police investigations of the jail were released on April 29, 2003. The probe found that the deaths of the two women, the missing bail money, and other troubles, were caused by "bad management." Investigators also complained that poor supervision and faulty documentation made it extremely difficult to conduct the criminal investigations.

Reports showed that guards at the jail were afraid to assist police in the investigations fearing retaliation from jail officials. One guard wrote in an e-mail sent to Neely on March 10 that he would only cooperate with police detectives if granted "amnesty against retaliation from jail administrators, staff, and other parties."

"I am requesting that we be protected from any threat to our physical well-being, as I have a fear that attempts to cause bodily harm is a major issue," the e-mail read.

Documents also detail how the archaic record-keeping methods at the jail opened the door for abuse leading to the missing bail money and other problems. The jail had been relying on hand-written ledgers and paper files to keep track of almost $1 million cash that belongs to prisoners. In addition, staff had been balancing the books by inventing fictitious or "dummy" prisoner accounts. Police documents show this practice continued even after county officials had ordered jail staff to stop.

New information obtained recently also indicates that Bynum did not resign and was instead fired from her position as jail director. Bynum's attorney confirmed that "she was given an opportunity to resign and she didn't resign." Bynum hung up on reporters who called seeking comment.

Snohomish County announced on April 23 that Bynum's old jail director's position is being filled by the current director of the King County jail in Seattle, Steve Thompson. Thompson, 52, had interviewed for the Snohomish County position when it was vacant in 1998, but county officials chose Bynum instead. He then became director of the King County jail in 1999, and now he will inherit the Snohomish County jail, and all of its problems. Thompson assumed the new job on June 16, 2003.

Sources: The Everett Herald, The Seattle Times

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