Everybody says they’re allergic to something these days, which has resulted in a tendency for claims of allergies to be taken less seriously than they might otherwise. Add to that the generic sensitivity and concern of a corrections officer toward a 22-year-old and the mix is fatal.
At least it was for MIchael Saffioti, whose sin was failure to appear on a misdemeanor pot charge. But he surrendered on the warrant and was treated to a courtesy stay at Snohomish County Jail. When time came for breakfast, he tried to make sure the oatmeal was up to snuff. In his case, that meant it wouldn’t kill him as he had a severe dairy allergy.
According to the jail, it was another case of stercus accidit, and they did everything they could, because, well, that’s what you do when you’re a screw. Saffioti’s mother didn’t buy it, but she wasn’t in the jail and her motherly belief means little without proof.
Like most jails, there’s video. Her attorney, Cheryl Snow, fought for it. At first, they claimed it was deleted. Then she found reference to it in a report. They said they would send it. They didn’t. She again demanded it, and they gave an edited copy that only showed the aftermath. And again she demanded it, and finally got a copy that shows Saffioti trying to ascertain whether breakfast would kill him. After taking a few bites, Saffioti told the CO he needed immediate help and was blown off. And then he died in his cell. From KIROTV:
Saffioti’s mother is suing the Snohobish County Jail for $10 million for killing her son and ignoring his need for treatment.
This young man’s death reflects the toxic mix of dehumanization, neglect and deceit. Inmates complain constantly about nearly every aspect of life in jail. The accommodations don’t suit many, and there isn’t much reason not to complain. The product is that complaints are ignored.
After all, to the guards, these aren’t people, but inmates. That’s what inmates do, complain. Do something about the complaints and they’ll just be back complaining about something else tomorrow. Ignore them and they’ll still be back, but it’s easier to just ignore them again tomorrow.
The problem is that every once in a while, a complaint, like a life-threatening food allergy, is real. Not just real, but brutally real. To take the time to listen, to hear, to take seriously, a complaint is more than a guard can bear. Jails are all about routine, and routine applies to everyone. To expect CO’s to treat inmates like people, to take the time to distinguish between real complaints and the typical noise is to expect them to be caring, intelligent people. That’s not part of the routine.
The facile retort is that if the kid suffered from a life-threatening allergy that guards weren’t sufficiently sensitive about, all he need do to avoid a problem is not commit crimes, appear in court as required and go about his life among those who can better cater to his needs. This “solution,” of course, ignores that people make mistakes and, more importantly, the consequence of a mistake isn’t the death penalty. Saffioti died. While not keeping his nose clean initiated the chain of events, death is not an acceptable outcome.
But then, there remains a question about why the guard failed to take seriously Saffioti’s allergy. Had he suffered from diabetes, it might have been taken more seriously. Is death by anaphylaxis somehow less of a death?
There is another piece of the toxic mix of neglect and dehumanization in the Snohobish County Jail that needs to be noted. Allergies are seized upon by many people today as a convenient excuse to avoid contact with things that they would prefer to avoid. There are very real allergies, and there are people who are totally full of it. Don’t like the smell of someone’s perfume? Pretend you have an allergy. Voila, Problem solved.
But one person’s annoyance and feigned allergy diminishes concern for allergies in general. When everybody has an allergy, nobody is taken is seriously as they should be. And your dislike to Chanel No. 5 isn’t worth a dead young man on a cell floor.
No, the death of Michael Saffioti isn’t attributable to too many people claiming phony allergies to make their lives more convenient. It is attributable to a jail that was told by a human being that he could die from his allergy, and just didn’t give a damn. But it doesn’t help to reduce something as serious for Michael Saffioti to a joke, either.
Finally, there may not be a great deal of information on the initial charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession, or the cause of his failure to appear and subsequent surrender, but one key detail drives home the pointlessness of this young man’s death:
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.
Another casualty of the War on Drugs, maybe one of the last to die for it in Washington State. Does it make all the drug warriors feel powerful to know that they saved society from this plague and it cost Michael Saffioti his life?
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