Tragic Death at Washington Jail Results in Changes, $1.3 Million Settlement
by Lonnie Burton
Lyndsey Lason’s life was by no means perfect, but she didn’t deserve to die 13 days after being booked into the Snohomish County jail in Everett, Washington in 2011. Yet when her repeated complaints of breathing problems were ignored by the jail’s medical staff, that’s exactly what happened. Lason’s chest filled with fluid, collapsing her lungs; she died in the middle of the night in her cell. According to the county medical examiner, a simple chest X-ray would have saved her life.
In April 2014 the county agreed to pay Lason’s estate $1.3 million to settle her family’s damage claim, prior to a lawsuit being filed. At the insistence of the estate, the county also agreed to numerous improvements at the jail, including hiring a doctor, reducing the population, and forming an advisory committee to review jail policies and procedures.
On October 29, 2011, at the age of 27, Lason was arrested on misdemeanor warrants for theft and prostitution and booked into the Snohomish County jail. After falling out of her bunk a few days later, Lason complained to fellow prisoners and jail medical staff that she was having trouble breathing.
Five days later she was finally seen by a nurse, who noted Lason had a high temperature, rapid breathing, an elevated heart rate and “abnormally low oxygen saturation.” The nurse also reported that Lason was hyperventilating during the examination.
However, instead of ordering diagnostic tests, the nurse gave Lason stool softeners and muscle relaxants – neither of which would have done anything to help her. Lason’s medical condition rapidly worsened. She repeatedly cried out for help, so often that others simply became acclimated to her pleas or thought she was faking in an attempt to procure drugs.
Prisoners began to make fun of Lason’s labored breathing and would mock the “eke, eke, eke” sound she made when she inhaled.
It got so bad, in fact, that Lason’s cellmate put in for a transfer. The cellmate later described how Lason would straddle the toilet backwards and put her head down trying to find a comfortable position to breathe, and thrashed in her bed at night. The cellmate also reported an atrocious odor in the cell which was later attributed to the infection in Lason’s lungs.
“She was fighting for her life,” said Jennifer Taylor, Lason’s cousin and the estate’s representative. “She would bang on doors. She would try to get anyone to pay attention to her.”
But they all assumed – wrongly – that she was faking.
Attorney Royce Ferguson, who represented Lason’s estate, described one such incident: “She would push the [emergency call] button and say ‘Help me! Help me! Help me!’ and they’d yell at her ‘Quit pushing the emergency button!’”
“Essentially, she was ignored,” Ferguson said. Forensic pathologist Carl Wigren of the Snohomish County medical examiner’s office told detectives and KOMO 4 News that an X-ray would have revealed lung abscesses, and that complacency on the part of the jail medical staff and guards resulted in Lason’s death.
After filing a wrongful death damage claim for $10 million, the county and Lason’s estate settled for $1.3 million. According to the settlement, the funds were earmarked to provide financial assistance to Lason’s 11-year-old son, as well as for his future education.
The parties also entered into a separate agreement which provided for immediate improvements in the jail’s delivery of medical services, including 1) reducing the jail population, 2) hiring a doctor, 3) increasing nurses’ salaries to competitive levels, and 4) adopting and enforcing new medical standard operating procedures.
Including Lason, at least 13 prisoners died at the Snohomish County jail between 2010 and 2014; seven of those deaths were due to medical conditions.
Sources: www.komonews.com, www.herald.net, www.kirotv.com
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