Snohomish County Jail faces lawsuit over inmate death

A lawsuit filed against Snohomish County accuses jail staff of negligence, leading to the death of 34-year-old Christopher Hankins.

Hankins, who was awaiting trial, was facing an assault charge. He had a history of drug use, mental health issues and had recently left the hospital after concerns he would commit suicide.

According to the lawsuit, a deputy was concerned enough to call for medical help when they found him sitting sideways on a stool with head down on his bunk around 2 a.m. He was shaken awake, and medical staff was called in. They noted his pulse was elevated.

"Unfortunately—and we don’t know why—they just left him," said Melanie Nguyen, an attorney representing Hankins’ mother in the lawsuit. "When they returned three hours later, he was in the exact same position and never woke up again."

A medical examiner later found cause of death to be "acute heroin intoxication."

Hankins had self-reported that he used meth prior to his arrest in July. Given his drug-use, and his placement on suicide watch, Nguyen told FOX 13 that more needed to be done to prevent his death.

"In this case, medical checks should have occurred more often, and quickly," said Nguyen. "As soon as there is any symptom of a potential drug overdose, Narcan should have been administered. It’s super, super easy."

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s office stated that they cannot comment on pending litigation.

Asked about drugs entering the jail, a spokesperson stated that they’re evaluating booking processes and advancing technology to prevent drugs from entering the county’s facility.

While Hankins death occurred in 2020, the flow of drugs into the jail hasn’t stopped. Seven inmates were taken to the hospital after a series of fentanyl overdoses in May.

Two more inmates died in September, though it’s unclear whether their deaths were tied to drugs.

On Sept. 7, 2023 38-year-old Jonathan Reilly was found unresponsive in the jail’s medical detox watch. According to information released by the sheriff’s office, he refused a medical check before finding him 22 minutes later unresponsive. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Four days later, 42-year-old Andrey Biruk was found unresponsive in his cell, just three days after he entered jail.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office told FOX 13 that they hope to have details on what caused both men’s deaths in the coming weeks.

As for Hankins’ death and subsequent lawsuit, the county has filed a motion to drop parts of the case.

Nguyen said that these are difficult cases, that often cost taxpayers money in the end.

"The county has paid out, on cases like this, millions of dollars, and it seems like nothing has been done about it," said Nguyen.