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Inmate who died in Whatcom County Jail identified as Lummi woman

A deputy speaks to an inmate in a first-floor holding cell at Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham in this June 28, 2015 file photo.
A deputy speaks to an inmate in a first-floor holding cell at Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham in this June 28, 2015 file photo. eabell@bellinghamherald.com

A Whatcom County Jail inmate who died Thursday afternoon has been identified as a woman who lived on the Lummi Reservation.

Records show Lummi Nation police booked Paula Lee Jefferson into jail on suspicion of driving under the influence about 22 hours before her death. Her blood-alcohol content tested high at the time of her arrest, but staff at St. Joseph hospital found her medically fit to be transferred to jail, said Sheriff Bill Elfo.

Jefferson was alone in a first-floor holding cell for inmates who are sobering up, often referred to as a “drunk tank.” The cell is feet from where new bookings are processed.

Jefferson responded to jail staff when they checked on her around noon Thursday. Staff arrived to bring her lunch 10 minutes later and found her unconscious. They performed CPR and called for paramedics.

Jefferson was pronounced dead in the jail. She was 48.

She’s listed as a voting member of the Lummi Tribe in recent editions of the tribal newsletter, Squol Qwol.

An autopsy was scheduled for Friday, but no details about the findings had been released as of Friday night.

Bellingham police were called in to investigate the death.

A records request by The Bellingham Herald for jail security footage was denied Friday, on the grounds the video is confidential under state law if it’s tied to a specific inmate’s file, said Chief Corrections Deputy Wendy Jones.

The last death in the jail was in May 2015, when a man took his own life with a shaving razor in his cell on the second floor.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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