Moral Low Ground


Michael Saffioti, Jailed for Marijuana Possession, Died from Food Allergy in Snohomish County Jail

Michael SaffiotiA young Washington man who turned himself in to authorities because of an outstanding marijuana possession warrant  died last year in a county jail from a severe food allergy.

KIRO reports 22-year-old Michael Saffioti died in Snohomish County Jail on the morning of July 3, 2012, shortly after eating breakfast. A jail video shows Saffioti, who was extremely allergic to dairy, holding his tray at a guard desk. He presumably wanted to know if the oatmeal he was served was safe for him to eat. After a while, Saffioti took a few bites.

Within minutes, he returns to the guard desk and is seen using an inhaler. He asked to see a nurse, but was instead sent back to his cell. According to a legal claim filed by his family, he pressed the call button but was ignored. About 35 minutes after eating the oatmeal, a guard found Saffioti lying unconscious in his cell. He was then rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead half an hour later.

An attorney for Saffioti mother claims jail officials are to blame for the young man’s death.

“Our theory is that they absolutely knew about Michael’s medical needs,” attorney Cheryl Snow, who has filed notice of a $10 million claim against the county, told KIRO. Snow claims no special diet trays were delivered to the module that day.

“The video shows Michael clearly made his needs apparent, that his needs were ignored,” Snow said. “Once he suffered distress he was further ignored.”

Snow also claims Snohomish County officials have stonewalled her as she has attempted to gather information related to Saffioti’s death. Her complaint alleges officials denied the video of Saffioti existed.

“Instead of us having transparency, we have come up against a brick wall,” Snow told KIRO.

The Huffington Post reports Saffioti was the eight person to die in the Snohomish County Jail in the past three years. At least two families have taken legal action, blaming official misconduct for their loved ones’ deaths.

Earlier this week, KOMO reported a National Institute of Corrections investigation concluded Snohomish County Jail must increase staffing levels. The probe found the jail’s health care program “seriously understaffed” and cited major safety risks caused by overcrowding. It also blasted the jail’s health care screening process as “seriously inadequate” due to insufficient training.

The sad irony of Saffioti’s death is that four months later, recreational marijuana use was legalized in Washington state.

Saffioti isn’t the first US prisoner to die behind bars while serving time for simple marijuana possession. Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old quadriplegic who used medical cannabis to treat effects of his paralysis, died in a Washington, DC jail while serving a 10-day sentence in 2004. Medical marijuana was later legalized in Washington, DC.

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