A 28-year-old Native American man who suffered life-threatening opioid withdrawals at the Nisqually Jail and eventually died at an Olympia hospital was the victim of a homicide, according to the Thurston County Coroner’s Office.
After nine months of investigating hours of video footage from the jail over a span of four days, Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock and his office determined that the death of Joseph Cagey, 28, a member of the Lummi Nation who lived in the Bellingham area, was likely preventable.
The case has since been forwarded to the FBI’s Olympia bureau since the Nisqually Jail is under federal jurisdiction due to its location on tribal land.
“Death from opioid withdrawal is rare if proper care and support is provided,” said Warnock, reading off the autopsy report. “Mr. Cagey likely suffered from dehydration and probable electrolyte imbalance before becoming unresponsive.”
The findings stem from a Dec. 18 incident in which Cagey was booked into the Nisqually Jail on suspected drug paraphernalia possession violation.
The Olympian, which first reported the story of Warnock’s findings on Wednesday, wrote that Lummi Nation holds contracts with other jails to house people arrested on tribal land, which is the reason why Cagey was booked into a South Sound correctional facility.
When questioned upon his booking, Cagey told Nisqually Jail staff he had not used any opioids in the leadup to his arrest, Warnock said.
But shortly after he arrived at the jail, Warnock said, Cagey began showing obvious signs of being under distress.
“Basically what we saw in the videos is that, when he arrives, he appears to follow commands,” Warnock said. “Then, review of all the video shows he was not well as early as the 18th … From the time he was brought in until he collapsed, his body language and his maneuvers demonstrated he was in significant distress.”
After his collapse on Dec. 21, Cagey was taken to a medical unit and later taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia where he died the next day.
In the days following Cagey’s death, Warnock and his office were able to determine the cause of death but not the circumstances under which he died. His office then began compiling video evidence, the timeline and review of which took many months to work out.
Warnock said based on everything, including autopsy and medical records and the video review, his office determined the manner of death to be homicidal, though further review could prove otherwise with a full investigation.
“If they find further evidence that would change the manner of death, that is something I would consider,” he said of the FBI’s investigation, adding later: “He shouldn’t have died.”