County medical examiner rules death of jail inmate a suicide; police investigation continues

The Lynnwood Jail

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has identified the 47-year-old woman who was found dead in the Lynnwood Jail last week. Lynnwood resident Tirhas B. Tesfatsion died by suicide, according to the medical examiner’s report released Wednesday.

On July 13, the Lynnwood Police Department reported that an unnamed female inmate had been located near the showering area next to the women’s part of the jail. The department requested an independent investigation be completed by the Kirkland Police Department. Initially, the Lynnwood Police Department said it consulted the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team (SMART); however, because there was no indication of a police or custody use of force, they declined to investigate.

A Kirkland Police Department update provided Wednesday afternoon stated that on the same day that Tesfatsion’s body was found, Lynnwood police provided Kirkland detectives with “full access” to the department facilities, staff, reports and electronic/video data in order to conduct as their investigation. The medical examiner’s ruling was consistent with Kirkland detectives’ findings, the Kirkland announcement said.

Lynnwood police said Wednesday that Tesfatsion’s family was contacted and notified that Kirkland police would be handling the investigation into her death.

Lynnwood police spokesperson Joanna Small said that Tesfatsion was being housed in a general population, dormitory-style housing unit designed to accommodate multiple female inmates; however, she was the only female inmate in the jail at that time. There are two video cameras that record the activity in the entire housing unit, except for the shower and toilet area where Tesfatsion was found.

According to Lynnwood jail records, Tesfatsion was booked on July 12 for a drug-related DUI charge. This is the first in-custody death in the jail since it opened in 1994, Small said.

“This was a terribly tragic event, and we wish to express our deepest condolences to the family,” she said.

The lead Kirkland detective in the case provided a summary of the investigation so far to members of the Lynnwood Police Command Staff Tuesday, and the independent investigation “is expected to conclude in the coming days,” Kirkland Police Public Information Officer Tiffany Trombley said. Kirkland police will submit the findings directly to the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office for review and determination as to whether any violation of criminal law occurred related to the in-custody death,  she added.

“It was important to wait for this initial independent death investigation to be initiated prior to the start of our administrative process, which will examine the time the woman was in custody,” Lynnwood police spokesperson Small added. “We will examine in detail whether policy and procedures were followed as we attempt to reconstruct the events leading up to the incident.”

Police have remained in contact with the family, and they will have the opportunity to review the video, Small said.

–By Cody Sexton

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