A misdemeanor marijuana charge turned into a death sentence for a 22-year-old Mukilteo, Wash., man when jail guards fed him a meal containing dairy products. They should have known he was fatally allergic to dairy, a $10 million lawsuit filed by the man's mother charges.
Now a surveillance video obtained by a local TV station appears to back up the mother’s case that guards ignored her son's cries for help.
Michael Ryan Saffioti turned himself in on the minor charge last July.
According to his mother, Rose Saffioti, her son had taken up regular marijuana use to cope with the anxiety he felt over his extreme food allergies, knowing that with even a minor mistake, his next meal could be his last.
That’s what happened in Snohomish County Jail on July 3 this year. Though he questioned guards whether the oatmeal they served him at 5:46 that morning contained dairy products that could kill him, they assured him that the food was safe.
According to his mother, whose lawsuit seeks $10 million from the county, the guards knew about his condition because he had been in that jail on a prior occasion. His marijuana use led to occasional, minor bouts with the law.
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.
However, the vote was too late for Saffioti (pictured). His mother says that in his previous jail stint, other inmates nicknamed him “Bubble Boy” because of the extreme measures he took to protect himself against substances that could trigger a fatal allergic reaction.
Before what turned out to be his final jail stay, his family had arranged for him to be kept in the jail’s medical unit, armed with the medications that he carried with him his whole life.
The lawsuit alleges that the guards had his medical file and that they did not respond in a timely fashion when Saffioti became distressed after eating the oatmeal.
"This video shows Michael clearly made his needs apparent, that his needs were ignored. Once he suffered distress he was further ignored," Rose Saffioti’s lawyer, Cheryl Snow, told TV station KIRO.
On the video he can be seen jumping up and down in his cell, with no help arriving. The suit alleges that he asked to see a nurse when his symptoms began shortly after eating, but he was ordered back to his cell by guards, who accused him of faking his ailment.
About 35 minutes after taking a few bites of the oatmeal, Saffioti was found unconcious in his cell. He was pronounced dead at a hospital a half-hour after that.
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A sheriff’s department investigation into Saffioti’s death concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against anyone involved.
Eight inmates have died in Snohomish County Jail over the past three years. Another inmate whose family is also suing died of an infection in the jail. A recent investigation by the National Institute of Corrections found that the jail’s health department is seriously understaffed and that overcrowding in the jail has caused serious safety hazards.
View the jailhouse video below.