Tirhas Tesfatsion, age 47, died in Lynnwood Municipal Jail on July 13, 2021. Two years and many public battles later, her family will be paid $1.75 million by the City of Lynnwood in a settlement finalized Sept. 14.
Tesfatsion was booked into the jail for drug-related DUI charges approximately 36 hours prior to her suicide. During processing, she denied having any other prior suicide attempts but disclosed that she suffered from depression, for which she was taking medication. Additionally, Tesfatsion reported that she was suffering from withdrawal symptoms related to her use of narcotics earlier that day.
An outside investigation conducted by the Kirkland Police Department revealed that custody officers did not check on Tesfatsion during the three hours prior to her death, violating the department’s policy to check on inmates every 60 minutes.
Tesfatsion covered herself with a blanket, tied her jail suit around her neck and moved a plastic chair to the cell bathroom, which was not visible by security camera. She was found by two officers shortly after 3 p.m. Officers and emergency medical personnel attempted to resuscitate Tesfatsion, but halted their efforts at 3:29 p.m. Her death was ruled a suicide by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, who also determined her cause of death to be asphyxia due to ligature hanging.
An investigation by the Lynnwood Police Department concluded that officers working in the Lynnwood jail while Tesfatsion was in custody failed to perform their given duties and violated public trust.
Tesfatsion’s son, Jonathan Yohannes, filed a lawsuit against the City of Lynnwood and several officers in July 2023. Allegations filed in the initial complaint include but are not limited negligence and causation of wrongful death. Charges against individual officers were dismissed with prejudice, so they will not be tried in the future in connection with Tesfatsion’s death.
According to court documents, in early September the City of Lynnwood offered a settlement in the amount of $1,750,001.00, plus attorney’s fees and costs. The settlement was accepted Thursday, Sept. 14.
–By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis