Last week, the Spokane Human Rights Commission sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting an investigation in light of recent inmate deaths
"While some of these incidents are currently under investigation by the Spokane Investigative Regional Response Team (SIRR), we are concerned that the frequency of deaths speaks to larger, systemic issues that plague the jail system in Spokane County, and believe that these untimely deaths warrant a broader look at how Spokane County Jail operates," the letter says.
It lists the four inmates who died while in custody within the past three months, including the most recent, Tammy Sue Heinen. Heinen was found dead in her cell July 13. She was arrested on a warrant for a parole violation while on her way to the hospital.
"I think so many people have swept it under the rug," says Heinen's mother, Barbara. "I just need it all to be settled and find out why, not only for her but so many others before her. What is going on that these people have to die in jail?"
Lorenzo Hayes' death in May was recently ruled a homicide by the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office. The medical examiner found that Hayes died from choking on his vomit while restrained in the jail's booking area. There was also meth in his system.
The other two men who died recently in the jail were John A. Everitt
and Scott Stevens.
Blaine Stum, the chair of the Human Rights Commission, says he was influenced to write the letter after several people contacted him with concerns about the recent slew of jail deaths.
"I felt the Human Rights Commission should find a way to address the possible larger issues at the jail, and knowing that the DOJ has statutory authority to investigate jails and other places of incarceration, I figured that would be our best bet," Stum says.