by Susan Katz Keating
A hazardous response team from the National Guard was brought in last month to help deal with a rash of fentanyl overdoses that swept through a county jail in Washington state.
The drug overdoses killed two inmates and overwhelmed four others who had to be revived, according to the Thurston County Sheriff.
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“Since March 5, 2023, Thurston County Corrections staff have identified (6) instances where defendants
incarcerated in our jail have overdosed on fentanyl,” the sheriff wrote in a statement. “In each of these instances, corrections and on-site medical staff have taken immediate action, providing medical aid, which included CPR and the administration of Narcan, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose.”
In the aftermath of those events, the sheriff asked the Washington National Guard’s 10th Civil Support Team to send a hazardous response team. The group arrived on March 17.
Members of the 10th Civil Support Team at the Thurston County Jail. (Courtesy Photo)
“It was pretty dire, with fentanyl getting into the jail,” one member of the Washington Guard told Soldier of Fortune. The soldier did not say specifically what the unit did, but directed Soldier of Fortune to photographs taken on scene.
The photos show unidentified people inside the jail while wearing hazardous protection gear, to include gloves and respiration masks. In one photo, team members ascend a staircase from what appears to be a ground floor common area, and climb to the second floor. In another, team members stand at a metal table while one appears to be writing or using a long tweezer or scalpel-like tool.
One inmate was found unresponsive on the evening of March 9, 2023, the sheriff noted.
At the Thurston County Jail on March 17, 2023. (Courtesy Photo)
“Corrections and on-site Medical Staff quickly responded and found the defendant, a male in his late 20’s, unresponsive in his cell,” the sheriff wrote. “Staff attempted life-saving measures until medics arrived. The subject was transported to Providence St. Peter Hospital where he passed away on March 13, 2023.”
Even as the man lingered for four days before dying, drugs remained inside the jail.
Another inmate was found unresponsive inside his cell at around midnight on March 14. He, too, did not respond to lifesaving efforts, and was taken to the local hospital. He reportedly died there within 24 hours.
The sheriff addressed the situation in a press release issued that day.
“Our office takes the introduction of narcotics into our correctional facility seriously,” the sheriff wrote. “We continue to enact measures to intercept these narcotics to include a full body scan at the time of booking.”
A woman who identified herself as the mother to one of the dead men’s children questioned how the inmates obtained the fatal drugs.
“How did they get the drugs in if no one has been aloud to have a in person visit since 2020?” wrote a woman who calls herself ZAmandadawn Dean on Facebook. “Riddle me with where you would like me to lay the responsibility for drugs getting into the jail when they only have contact with the people who work there.”
The overdoses have received considerable attention in the local community, with many also asking how the drugs arrived in the jail.
“It’s too late when people are dead,” said Amanda Woods, who knows an inmate at the jail. “They have to keep this from getting inside. Can’t the soldiers do anything?”
The National Guard cannot help the situation beyond its work as a civil support unit, the Washington soldier said.
“We’re hazardous support,” the soldier said. “The only thing we can do is respond after the fact.”
Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders last week returned to light duty after having been injured in an April 2 car crash. Investigators believe that the driver of the other car was under the influence of drugs when he plowed into the sheriff’s vehicle.