The cellmate of a man who died inside the Spokane County Jail describes the man's final hours

The cellmate of a man who died inside the Spokane County Jail describes the man's final hours
Carson family photo
Shane Carson, who was booked into the Spokane County Jail on a parole violation, died on June 13.

Shane Carson walked into a Spokane County Jail cell some time after 10:30 am on June 13. Less than 10 hours later, a corrections officer was dragging him out of the cell by his ankles, says Trevor Primeau, Carson's cellmate.

His face was purple and his forehead was cut between his eyebrows, says Primeau, who watched as corrections officers and medical staff tried and failed to revive Carson, 31, now one of seven people to die in the facility in the past 14 months. Most recently, on Aug. 9, 56-year-old Christopher Luman died following a fist fight and complaints of difficulty breathing. The death is being investigated as a homicide.

The Spokane County Sheriff's Office does not oversee the jail but is investigating Carson's death and has thus far released few details. Detective Lyle Johnston says he is waiting on the results of a toxicology report.

"There's been an issue with the state crime lab," Johnston says. "Years ago, we got results within four to eight weeks, and now it seems like we're waiting months."

A news release indicated in June that the detective is investigating a potential assault, but Johnston says he has no evidence to support that initial suspicion.

In a recent jailhouse interview, Primeau denies that he assaulted Carson and describes a man in the midst of a drug withdrawal. Primeau, who acknowledges using drugs in the past, says Carson would wake up in fits, shaking. He was drenched in sweat, and his skin was very pale.

Primeau says he called corrections officers to the cell door at least two times.

Each time "the cop came by and he was like 'Oh he's just DTing. He's just DTing. It's normal,'" Primeau says.

Later in the evening, Carson starts hyperventilating — quick breaths in and out — which Primeau demonstrates during an interview at the jail.

At the time, he calls the corrections officers again: "I'm like, 'This dude's not doin' good. Can I get into a different room or something if you're not going to come in here and check this dude out and make sure he's OK?'"

After about an hour, Primeau estimates, Carson's heavy breathing stops, and Primeau assumes he has fallen asleep. Soon after, a corrections officer moves Primeau to the cell next door. That's when the officer notices Carson laying face down on the bottom bunk, motionless.

Yvonne Wilson, Carson's mother, says she's been given virtually no information about her son's death. When she viewed his body at the funeral home, his face looked like it had been "shoved into a wall." She heard Primeau's story for the first time when contacted recently by a reporter.

So far, the Sheriff's Office has released investigations for four of the seven deaths inside the Spokane County Jail since June 2017. Those documents provide details of the conditions and circumstances of each death. But without a final toxicology report, investigators are left without definite conclusions and families, including Carson's, are left in the dark.

The last time Valerie Krienke saw Carson was in February 2016. The two had been together for the previous five years, but soon before she gave birth to their son, she says Carson began using drugs.

"He really truly loved his kids even though he was making bad decisions," she says. "We all know that drugs change people and change what is important to them, but when he was sober, he was thinking about his kids."

Carson has two more kids with another woman, ages 11 and 13.

On that day in 2016, Krienke met with Carson so he could spend time with their son, Blake, who was about 11 months old at the time. He hadn't even taken his first steps.

When she arrived, Carson told her to set the tyke down and let him walk. Hesitant at first, Krienke agreed.

"Come here boo boo," she recalls Carson saying. "And sure enough Blake walked straight across the living room right to him."

Yvonne Wilson, Carson's mother, describes a similarly fond memory: an image in her head of three tiny babies sitting on his lap. Carson is beaming. Two of the infants are Wilson's now-13-year-old twins, and the third was Carson's oldest daughter.

Both women describe Carson as a loving dad, who could not escape his poor decisions.

Wilson, 51, who now lives in Oregon, is a recovering addict herself — six years clean in October. She's talked with Carson about getting sober. Stints in rehab didn't take.

"It is very difficult, especially if you're on the streets and around it all the time," Wilson says. "It's hard to get away from it. One day you're doing great, and then it can fall apart instantly."

Records show that Carson pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated assault last September for an attack that sent a man to the hospital with a broken nose. In May of 2017, he was arrested for an assault on a man in a Spokane Valley apartment. A woman told police Carson was trying to protect her, according to court documents.

Krienke describes Carson as a goofy guy who was always trying to make her smile. She and Wilson fell out of touch with Carson in recent years due in part to his drug use. Both are still looking for answers around his death.

In July 2017, Spokane County renewed its contract with NaphCare, Inc. for $6.l million annually to provide medical care for jail inmates. The company provides the same services for 26 local jail facilities across the country, including five others in Washington state. NaphCare has also been the target of several lawsuits over people dying in jails throughout the country.

Bradford McLane, chief operating officer for NaphCare, declines to comment on any specific case, but says each person is evaluated by jail medical staff, who have the option to send them to a hospital, rather than a jail cell.

After three men hanged themselves with bedsheets in their cells between June 2017 and June 2018, Sgt. Tom Hill, a spokesman for the jail, announced several reforms intended to address suicide attempts and drug withdrawal.

He says jail staff recently began replacing sheets with thicker blankets that are more difficult to conceal. Soon, jail medical staff will have the ability to prescribe the drug Buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Hill will also consult with experts on in-custody suicide and drug addiction treatment. Lindsay Hayes, an expert in deaths by suicide inside jails, will begin his work in September, Hill says. But administrative reviews of the deaths where drugs are suspected to play a role cannot move forward without toxicology reports.

"There is a significant issue with getting toxicology back these days," Hill says. "Until we have all that information, our ability to review these is limited." ♦

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Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.