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Originally published Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 8:31 PM

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Snohomish County probes death of inmate who had food allergy

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office determined last week that 22-year-old Michael Saffioti, who was in the county jail after a marijuana bust, died from bronchial asthma brought on by his milk allergy. His mother suspects the attack may have been brought on by what he had for breakfast in the jail.

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EVERETT — A 22-year-old man with severe food allergies died in the Snohomish County Jail after a pot bust, and now his mother says she wants to know why.

Michael Saffioti died a day after turning himself in to face a misdemeanor marijuana charge on July 2, The Herald newspaper of Everett and KIRO-TV of Seattle reported. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office determined last week that he died from bronchial asthma brought on by his milk allergy.

Based on the accounts of two inmates, Saffioti's mother, Rose Saffioti, believes the attack may have been brought on by what he had for breakfast July 3.

She said her son brought along a bag of medications needed to control his allergies and asthma when his brother drove him to the Lynnwood Police Department, where he turned himself in on a warrant that was issued when he missed a court date.

He was transferred to the county jail because it has a medical unit, but once there, he was placed in the general population, Rose Saffioti said. The next morning, she received a call from a doctor at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett that her son was dead.

"He was scared," she said. "I said, 'You are doing the right thing. They are going to take care of you.' He said, 'I have a bad feeling that they are not going to take me seriously.' "

The Sheriff's Office is still investigating, spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

Michael Saffioti's allergies were so extreme he would have to ask a girl about what she had eaten before he could kiss her, his mother said.

Relatives and friends attributed his legal troubles to his medical problems, which caused panic attacks and led to his use of anti-anxiety prescription drugs and marijuana. He had problems with drug abuse since his teens.

In 2008, Michael Saffioti, then 17, was given an alternative sentence for minor offenses that required outpatient drug treatment. At the time, a doctor wrote a letter saying his patient had "multiple potential life-threatening chronic illnesses" that required environmental controls unlikely to be found behind bars, The Herald reported.

In a later stay at the county jail for marijuana possession, his food was separately prepared and wrapped in plastic to avoid trace contaminants, Rose Saffioti said. The precaution earned Saffioti the jail nickname "Bubble Boy," and his family appreciated the jail's willingness to meet his medical needs.

It's one of six deaths to occur in the jail since 2010. It's one of at least two that appear headed toward wrongful-death claims against the county. Rose Saffioti, who is a nurse, has hired Seattle attorney Anne Bremner to pursue the case.

"My motivation is justice for Michael, policies changed, protocols changed, so that nobody has to go through this whether they have allergies, are diabetic or have cardiac issues," Rose Saffioti said. "Nothing is going to bring Michael back, but it can effect a change, and that's what Michael would have wanted."

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