By KAREN VELIE
While San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson admits to having some responsibility for the death of a mentally ill man at the county jail, he continues to promote a disputed narrative of the events that led to Andrew Holland’s death.
During a SLO County Board of Supervisor meeting last week, county officials discussed possible changes to jail and mental health policies and procedures. While county officials said they plan to improve inmate care through policy changes, critics questioned the county’s accounting of events and alleged failures to hold staffers responsible.
On Jan. 20, deputies strapped Holland naked in a restraint chair in the jail’s drunk tank where he remained until shortly before his death, two days later. During that time, deputies failed to provide Holland with adequate food and water or allow him to use a restroom.
Nevertheless, county officials have not mounted an investigation or reprimanded staffers accused of torture or neglect in the death of Holland.
Near the end of last week’s board meeting, Super visor Debbie Arnold made a motion to direct staff to explore the possibility of contracting with a private company to provide mental, medical, and dental care to jail inmates. The board unanimously approved the motion.
Shortly after Holland’s death, the sheriff’s department sent out a press release that Holland had banged his head against a wall before he died mysteriously, without any bruising or marks on his body.
However, Holland died with scars, bruising and swelling on his body from a blood clot that formed in his leg while he was strapped in a restraint chair.
SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson continues to claim that jail staff monitored and checked on Holland approximately every 15 minutes and moved his limbs every two hours, claims that are refuted by county records and a video of Holland’s final two days.
Parkinson also continues to claim that county medical personnel were responsible for restraining Holland for 46 hours. However, county correctional staffers placed Holland in the chair, failed to follow rules regarding the amount of time an inmate can be restrained in a chair, and laughed at Holland while he died.
California laws require jails to submit a health inspection report every two years to the state. In a 2015 report, inspectors determined that the county had failed to comply with title 15 requirements regarding adequate staffing, policies and procedures and the proper use of restraints and rubber rooms.
According to California Health and safety Code 101045, following the inspection, county staff is required to provide the report to the board of supervisors. In response to questions about why the board was not provided the report, County Counsel Rita Neal argued that there is no such requirement.
“No, I am unaware of any legal requirement that that report has to come to the board,” Neal said.
During ;last week’s board meeting, Sheriff Parkinson continued to assert that his department followed state and county policies and procedures in its restraint of Holland.
“Our policy’s remain complete and in compliance,” Parkinson said. “We should have recognized the need for our policy to restrict the limit of time an inmate can remain in restraints, we should have looked at forcing alternatives, which we did not.”
However, in 2016, Parkinson adopted policies and procedures that limit inmate confinement in a restraint chair to 12 hours.
In response to questions about high mortality rates at the SLO County Jail, Parkinson said the rates at the SLO County Jail in 2014 were lower than some counties with comparable population sizes. Parkinson then specifically pointed to jail death rates in Monterey County, a county that has also been under fire for alleged civil rights abuses at its jail.
“In comparative to counties our size, we had five to six counties that were significantly smaller to us with more deaths,” Parkinson said. “As an example, Monterey County had five deaths in one year.”
In 2014, the inmate death rate at the SLO County Jail, with an average population of 551 prisoners, was more than three times the national average. In 2014, three men died in the men’s jail or .54 percent of inmates, while the nation average is .13 percent, according to Federal Bureau of Justice statistics data.
In 2014, the Monterey County Jail had an average jail per-capita population of 971 inmates. During that year, three men died or .31 percent of the inmate population. In 2015, with an average jail inmate population of 936, five inmates died in the Monterey County Jail, or 53 percent.
In 2015, to settle a class action lawsuit regarding usage of safety cells, medical screenings, medication output and medical staffing, Monterey County paid out $4.8 million for attorney’s fees.
Of the seven Los Angeles County Jails, the Twin Towers Jail had the highest percentage of inmate deaths in 2014, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In 2014, out of a population of 3,276 inmates, the Twin Towers Jail had a .19 percent death rate, which is less than half San Luis Obispo County Jail’s .54 percent per-capita death rate.
On Aug. 22, more than a dozen members of the Holland family asked the county to stop promoting a false narrative and focus on transparency and change.
“Bad policies did not kill Andrew Holland, people did,” said Stella Holland, Andrew Holland’s aunt. “People should stop spreading this false narrative, it is a patent falsehood.”