But For Video: Killer Oatmeal

Everybody says they’re allergic to something these days, which has resulted in a tendency for claims of allergies to be taken less seriously than they might otherwise.  Add to that the generic sensitivity and concern of a corrections officer toward a 22-year-old and the mix is fatal.

At least it was for MIchael Saffioti, whose sin was failure to appear on a misdemeanor pot charge.  But he surrendered on the warrant and was treated to a courtesy stay at Snohomish County Jail.  When time came for breakfast, he tried to make sure the oatmeal was up to snuff.  In his case, that meant it wouldn’t kill him as he had a severe dairy allergy.

According to the jail, it was another case of stercus accidit, and they did everything they could, because, well, that’s what you do when you’re a screw.  Saffioti’s mother didn’t buy it, but she wasn’t in the jail and her motherly belief means little without proof.

Like most jails, there’s video.  Her attorney, Cheryl Snow, fought for it. At first, they claimed it was deleted. Then she found reference to it in a report. They said they would send it. They didn’t. She again demanded it, and they gave an edited copy that only showed the aftermath. And again she demanded it, and finally got a copy that shows Saffioti trying to ascertain whether breakfast would kill him. After taking a few bites, Saffioti told the CO he needed immediate help and was blown off. And then he died in his cell. From KIROTV:

[Before clicking on the vide, be aware that KIROTV is a shameless whore in including a lengthy, scummy commercial to get its 2 cents per view rather than just be satisfied with having its new report shown.  I apologize for this, but can’t seem to recode it to eliminate the commercial. If someone else can, please let me know and send me the code. KIRO TV disgusts me.]

Saffioti’s mother is suing the Snohobish County Jail for $10 million for killing her son and ignoring his need for treatment.

This young man’s death reflects the toxic mix of dehumanization, neglect and deceit.  Inmates complain constantly about nearly every aspect of life in jail.  The accommodations don’t suit many, and there isn’t much reason not to complain. The product is that complaints are ignored.

After all, to the guards, these aren’t people, but inmates. That’s what inmates do, complain. Do something about the complaints and they’ll just be back complaining about something else tomorrow. Ignore them and they’ll still be back, but it’s easier to just ignore them again tomorrow.

The problem is that every once in a while, a complaint, like a life-threatening food allergy, is real.  Not just real, but brutally real.  To take the time to listen, to hear, to take seriously, a complaint is more than a guard can bear. Jails are all about routine, and routine applies to everyone. To expect CO’s to treat inmates like people, to take the time to distinguish between real complaints and the typical noise is to expect them to be caring, intelligent people. That’s not part of the routine.

The facile retort is that if the kid suffered from a life-threatening allergy that guards weren’t sufficiently sensitive about, all he need do to avoid a problem is not commit crimes, appear in court as required and go about his life among those who can better cater to his needs. This “solution,” of course, ignores that people make mistakes and, more importantly, the consequence of a mistake isn’t the death penalty.  Saffioti died. While not keeping his nose clean initiated the chain of events, death is not an acceptable outcome.

But then, there remains a question about why the guard failed to take seriously Saffioti’s allergy.  Had he suffered from diabetes, it might have been taken more seriously.  Is death by anaphylaxis somehow less of a death?

There is another piece of the toxic mix of neglect and dehumanization in the Snohobish County Jail that needs to be noted. Allergies are seized upon by many people today as a convenient excuse to avoid contact with things that they would prefer to avoid.  There are very real allergies, and there are people who are totally full of it. Don’t like the smell of someone’s perfume? Pretend you have an allergy. Voila, Problem solved.

But one person’s annoyance and feigned allergy diminishes concern for allergies in general.  When everybody has an allergy, nobody is taken is seriously as they should be.  And your dislike to Chanel No. 5 isn’t worth a dead young man on a cell floor.

No, the death of Michael Saffioti isn’t attributable to too many people claiming phony allergies to make their lives more convenient. It is attributable to a jail that was told by a human being that he could die from his allergy, and just didn’t give a damn.  But it doesn’t help to reduce something as serious for Michael Saffioti to a joke, either.

Finally, there may not be a great deal of information on the initial charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession, or the cause of his failure to appear and subsequent surrender, but one key detail drives home the pointlessness of this young man’s death:

In an ironic twist, just four months after Saffioti’s death, marijuana use and sale became legal in the state of Washington, approved by voters in the November 2012 election.

Another casualty of the War on Drugs, maybe one of the last to die for it in Washington State. Does it make all the drug warriors feel powerful to know that they saved society from this plague and it cost Michael Saffioti his life?

H/T Luke Rioux

14 thoughts on “But For Video: Killer Oatmeal

  1. UltravioletAdmin

    The guards probably heard but dismissed the allergy as minor (which you can chalk up to bad education). I have a friend with a bad dairy allergy and people think it’s just lactose intolerance, at worse she’ll be gassy. Not throat closing dead. It’s messed up though that the nurses weren’t being called once the reaction started. I’ve heard very few good things about Snohomish County police, which is sad as it is otherwise a nice place. (especially compared to the previous stories in the Tacoma region).

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve heard very few good things about Snohomish County police, which is sad as it is otherwise a nice place.

      It’s like the Red Roof Inn of jails, but next door to an Arby’s instead of an Applebee’s? Would you consider going on a field trip so we could start a little Trip Advisor thing for jails? Some would argue that the reason Snohomish is a nice place is because of the very few good things spoken about the police. But does the jail have comfy pillows?

  2. Luke Rioux

    Sad case. Thanks for digging in and getting the details on the video trickery that the jail tried to play. I was reading one of the articles you linked as saw this little gem: “Michael Saffioti is among the eight people who have died at the jail since 2010.” Seems like a nice place.

  3. Alex Stalker

    This seems slightly off topic, but I do have access to the court docket entries regarding Mr. Saffioti. (I mention it because your blog post indicates information is sparse).

    He was convicted of misdemeanor possession of marijuana in August 2011, and given a jail sentence of 1 day, (the mandatory minimum) with 89 days suspended. He was ordered to get an assessment and do treatment. He failed to appear to serve his 1 day in jail, then failed to appear at a subsequent hearing (it is unclear whether he had notice of the subsequent hearing). The court found he had violated the sentence in December 2011 and imposed 13 days, which Mr. Saffioti served. In April 2012, a probation violation was filed (for failure to follow up on treatment), and a hearing set in May. Mr. Saffioti failed to appear for the probation violation hearing in May, and a warrant issued (again, notice is unclear). Then I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it looks like in July 2012 Mr. Saffioti was picked up on his warrant, and transferred from the Lynnwood Municipal Jail to the Snohomish County Jail, where he died.

    In December 2012, what Mr. Saffioti was convicted of ceased to be a crime in Washington State.

  4. Charlesmorrison

    This is such a sad story, and unfortunately, is probably more common than anyone really is aware. But for video and all. One of the fairly common types of calls I receive from family members of jailed loved ones relates to the institution’s failure to administer prescription drugs to an inmate (either at all, or as prescribed by the treating physician). This included a gentleman with a very recent heart surgery that absolutely needed blood thinners (he ultimately was medically released to the hospital after the jail staff suddenly realized the man had something serious going on and he might really be in trouble). That is just one of more serious anecdotes that I’m sure your wide audience can add too. Most, however, have been related to mental illness and the jail’s failure/refusal to administer appropriate medication. And guess what? More than a handful of times the person is pinched for an offense while being held on pre-trial bond they can’t raise (assault on an officer being a common one).

    However, from a practioner’s perspective, the worst part is the lack of power we actually have to compel the administration of a jail (most likely the sheriff, in Ohio) to do something. I hate telling loved ones “I’ll see what I can do” and then pray I can get one of our judges to do anything about it. The family can’t understand why I am unable to simply show up at the jail and kick their ass into gear. The powerlessness is really the frustrating part. My calls mean nothing. I only have power with a court order in hand. And guess which elected branch hates to piss off the sheriff?

    1. SHG Post author

      My “wide audience” can’t add their own anecdotes because it’s inappropriate and I won’t allow it. It’s not relevant and definitely not appreciated.

  5. Pingback: Today's Drug War Outrage: Man Dies In Jail Cell After Misdemeanor Pot Offense |

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  7. C. Moore

    It is quite ridiculous that jails and staff are not held accountable to the requirements they are “suppose” to abide by regarding their supervision and care of inmates as set forth by the “Corrections Institute” either National of State. They make up their own rules as to what kind of care & accomadations an inmate gets which always boils down to money and how much of it they keep if they deny these people what they are required to provide. I am convinced the number of inmates that die due to illness that is not humanely considered and treated whether a pre existing issue or one aquired while incarcerated would be staggering if we had actual numbers! My son was assaulted by a jail guard causing facal injury after being taken in on a probation violation and was placed in solitary confinement for 3 three days without medical attention for the injury. This was a booking guard that threatened him during the intake process. Only by the grace of God he did not die as a result. He had just had stitches removed from the injured area about a week prior due to a head injury. In most States there are harsher penalities for mistreatment of animals but no accountability for mistreatment of people in certain situations. Such as incarcerated individuals. No wonder most come out worse than they went in regardless of how minimal the offense.

    1. SHG Post author

      And what is this “Corrections Institute” of which you speak?

      Did you or your son do anything about his injury? If not, what is it you think will change to hold jail guards accountable for harming prisoners?

      Yes, they should be held accountable. See what the mother did here to hold them accountable? Did you do the same?

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