Prisons

22-Year-Old Jailed for Pot Possession Dies While Guards Ignore His Pleas for Help

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A mother has finally obtained video footage proving that her 22-year-old son died when guards in a Snohomish County, Washington jail ignored his desperate pleas for help. The victim, Michael Saffioti, was serving time after missing a court date for a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. To make the awful story even worse, Saffioti's mother alleges that her son was killed by a severe allergic reaction to oatmeal that prison officials erroneously told him was safe to eat and then later covered up. She has spent the past year fighting with the jail to obtain footage that might help explain his death.  

Michael Saffioti/Saffioti family

The incident began in July of last year. Saffioti turned himself in to the authorities in order to be "held accountable for his legal issues" and was promptly thrown behind bars. He died less than 24 hours later.

As described by KIRO TV:

Around 5:46, a group of inmates arrived to serve breakfast and men began lining up. While others sat to eat, the camera first captured Saffioti at the guard's desk, holding his tray. Saffioti suffered from extreme dairy allergies and took regular pains to protect himself.

The video shows Saffioti apparently discussing his food [and whether it contained dairy] with the guard, servers and fellow inmates. Eventually, he took a few bites. Within a few minutes, Saffioti was back at the guard desk, using his inhaler. According to the legal claim, he asked to see a nurse. Instead, he was sent to his cell.

Over the next half hour, the video shows other inmates looking in Saffioti's cell as he jumped up and down. The legal claim says he pressed his call button and was ignored.

A fellow inmate who witnessed the incident claimed that a corrections officer took Saffioti's inhaler away and accused him of "faking" his sickness. 

KIRO TV continued:

About 35 minutes after he ate, a guard found Saffioti unconscious in his cell. The guard called for help and Saffioti was dragged him out.

Nurses arrived and performed CPR. Everett firefighters took over and rushed Saffioti to the hospital where he was pronounced dead a half hour later.

Rose Saffioti, Michael's mother, has insisted that the jail was negligent in caring for her son's health needs. According to Rose and Cheryl Snow, the attorney representing his case, Michael was always vigilant about checking his food and would have told the guards about his allergies. Additionally, the prison had his medical condition on file and was supposed to place him in a separate medical unit.

"Our theory is that they absolutely knew about Michael's medical needs," Cheryl Snow told KIRO TV.

However, when Saffioti's mother stated her belief that the guards' negligence caused her son's death last year, the jail retorted that it had not. In a report compiled by the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit, they claimed that Michael died from bronchial asthma rather than an allergic reaction. Consequently, county prosecutors decided not to press criminal charges against any guards.

Once Michael's mother filed a request for video footage of her son's death though, jail officials engaged in an intentional cover-up. First, officials denied the existence of any footage. When his mother discovered that this wasn't true, officials edited out incriminating portions of the video.

The full video, which confirms much of what inmate witnesses told investigators in interviews last year, is finally available.  

Saffioti's mother, who has filed suit against the county for $10 million, is unfortunately not alone. Over the past three years, eight inmates have died in Snohomish County Jail.

Just four months after Michael's death, Washington state legalized recreational marijuana.