By KAREN VELIE
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow called the Tribune’s Aug. 1 article “SLO County Jail is under FBI investigation after 11 inmate deaths,” misleading and inaccurate.
In the article, the reporter says that Dow has forwarded multiple complaints about the deaths in the jail to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Tribune reporter Matt Fountain then links the investigation to a press conference attended by Dow, Sheriff Ian Parkinson and FBI agent Sean Ragan.
“Beware of misleading and sensational news headlines,” Dow said in an Aug. 1 Facebook post. “The timing of and wording of today’s online Tribune article misleads readers to believe that the FBI is suddenly launching a new investigation into the Sheriff’s Office. This is NOT the truth and certainly not new news.
“This afternoon, I asked the Tribune to correct the misleading headline. They declined,” Dow added.
The Tribune article also claims the FBI investigation into civil rights violations at the jail was initiated at Parkinson’s request following the April 13 death of Kevin Lee McLaughlin. At the April 13 press conference, Parkinson asked the FBI to conduct an investigation into the deaths at the jail.
“Eimiller (FBI spokeswoman) said the FBI started its investigation in response to Parkinson’s invitation but declined to provide further details about its focus,” Fountain says in his article.
However, the FBI investigation into deaths at the jail was not initiated at the request of any other law enforcement agency, said Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
“The FBI investigation into civil rights issues is independent of any other law enforcement entity,” Eimiller said. “We opened an official investigation in May 2017 on information learned from a variety of sources.”
The FBI regularly interviews sources and complainants before mounting “official investigations.” Multiple sources, including Tave Holland, Andrew Holland’s cousin, said they were interviewed by FBI agents regarding Andrew Holland’s death before Parkinson publicly asked for an investigation.
“On April 5, 2017, I was interviewed by the FBI concerning the death of my cousin in the jail and other matters at the jail,” Tave Holland said. “While this was my first in person interview with the FBI, it was not my first discussion. I first discussed this issue in a phone call on March 23 where in it was apparent that an investigation was already underway.”
Parkinson made his public request for an FBI investigation on April 13.
On Jan. 20, deputies strapped Andrew Holland naked in a restraint chair where he remained until shortly before his death, two days later. While in restraints, blood clots formed in the 36-year-old man’s legs.
Upon his release, the blood clots traveled to his lungs causing a pulmonary embolism and his death, according to a preliminary autopsy report.
State laws and county policies and procedures regulate the use of restraint chairs. But in the case of Holland, it appears the county sheriff’s department failed to abide by county or state regulations.
“Restraints shall not be used as punishment, placed around a person’s neck or applied in a way that is likely to cause undue physical discomfort or restrict blood flow or breathing,” according to the sheriff’s department policy and procedure manual.
In 2016, Parkinson adopted policies and procedures that limit inmate confinement in a restraint chair to 12 hours.
Last week, The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay a $5 million settlement to the Holland family.
During a press conference announcing the settlement agreement, Paula Canny, an attorney for the Holland family, chastised county officials for spreading misinformation about Holland’s death through a press release.
In the press release, Parkinson maintains that jail staff followed all protocols about the use of restraint chairs and that the chair did not cause the blood clot to form in Holland’s leg.
“The problem is that the second part of their press release is pure fantasy, Canny said. “If this is what happened do you really think they would pay $5 million to the Hollands?”
In the six years since Parkinson was sworn in as sheriff, 11 people have died while in San Luis Obispo County Jail custody, twice the number who died in the prior six years, according to the California Department of Justice.
For more than four years, the jail has been out of compliance with Title 15 requirements regarding the use of restraints and isolation for mentally ill patients, according to jail inspection reports.
Even though the required inspections found the jail was out of compliance, changes were not made.