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$1.75 Million Settlement Reached in Washington Jail Suicide

by David M. Reutter

The Washington city of Lynnwood agreed on September 20, 2023, to pay $1.75 million to settle a lawsuit alleging guards at the Lynnwood Municipal Jail were negligent in the suicide death of Tirhas Tesfatsion two years before. An investigation after her death found “significant” lapses between wellness checks.

Tesfatsion, 47, was arrested just after midnight on July 12, 2021, for her second DUI in less than a year. A judge set her bond at $7,500. The investigation report after her death found five times that guards let more than the maximum 60 minutes pass between safety checks of her cell. Another five incidents involving Tesfatsion were never recorded in the guard activity log.

Jail surveillance video captured three guards who investigators said were “focused primarily on their work stations and/or cellphones” for nearly three hours after lunch was served before Tesfatsion’s body was discovered. Two of the guards were viewing “video content” that “[did] not appear to be work-­related,” the investigative report added.

Tesfatsion and three men in other cells were the only detainees at the jail, so there were more guards on duty than there were detainees to supervise. One of the guards left the jail for a two-­hour period on personal business while Tesfatsion proceeded to hang herself.

Guards last checked on Tesfatsion to serve lunch at 12:06 p.m. on July 13, 2021. She was recorded on video between 1:51 and 1:59 p.m. fashioning a ligature out of her jail jumpsuit, but no one apparently noticed at the time, nor when she then made two failed attempts to hang herself from her cell’s bunk beds before she was seen entering the bathroom area at 2:00 p.m. There she succeeded in hanging herself, but she was not discovered by guards until 3:01 p.m. Efforts to revive her failed.

Tesfatsion’s Estate, represented by Bellevue attorneys James Bible and Jesse Valdez, filed suit in federal court for the Western District of Washington on July 12, 2023. The Court then approved the $1,750,001 settlement, which included costs and fees for the estate’s attorneys. See: Tesfatsion v. City of Lynnwood, USDC (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 2:23-­cv-­01048.

No charges were filed against any of the guards involved, two of whom still work for the police department but were given unpaid suspensions. A third resigned after Tesfatsion’s death. A Community Recovery Center was carved out of a new jail the city was building; when it opens later in 2024 it will offer mental health resources in a “crisis stabilization center.”  


Additional source: KING

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Related legal case

Tesfatsion v. City of Lynnwood