Fact check: Sheriff Parkinson twists jail death data

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson appears to be twisting facts when it comes to whether or not the number of deaths in the SLO county jail is average or excessive.

At a forum last week, Parkinson called statements by his critics that the number of deaths at the county jail were higher than average, untrue. In promoting his assertion, Parkinson relied on a study that began two years before he took office in 2011 and ended in 2016.

“I think the interesting thing, if you go to the California Department of Justice and look up the death ratio in California and compare us to other counties per capita, you are going find out that we are right in the middle from 2009 to present,” Parkinson said.

For 2014, the California DOJ lists the state average for deaths at a jail based on total county population at .0043 percent and SLO County’s rate at .011 percent, more than double the state average, according to the California Department of Justice. (The 2014 report, is the last in-depth report regarding jail deaths produced by the state.)

During the forum, Parkinson said that SLO County does not exceed the national average for deaths in a jail by three to four times.

While the state uses county population numbers to determine jail death statistics, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics utilizes the average yearly jail inmate population count.

In 2017, with an average jail population of 600 inmates, three men died in the SLO County Jail, or .5 percent. The national average is 135 deaths a year per 100,000 inmates, or .135 percent.

Beginning in 2014, CalCoastNews began investigating the escalating rate of deaths at the SLO County jail. The investigations included interviewing jail staff, inmates and reviewing records from multiple Public Record Act requests.

SLO County jail deaths from 2014 through 2017:

Rudy Joseph Silva

On Jan. 23, 2014, Rudy Joseph Silva, 35, was discovered unconscious in his cell. He was transported to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center where he died of influenza and a staphylococcus infection four days later. Jail mates told CalCoastNews reporters Silva was sick for several days with coughing fits, but did not receive the medical care he pleaded for until he was no longer conscious.

Josey Richard Meche

On March 12, 2014, Josey Richard Meche, 28, of San Luis Obispo, died of a heart attack after flailing on a concrete cell floor for more than 20 minutes, according to the coroner’s report. Until he stopped moving, deputies offered him no assistance. At the time of his death, he had a 105.1 temperature, a staph infection and a toxic level of methamphetamine in his system, according to the autopsy report.

After taking Meche into custody, the officers transported him to the police station where he pulled hair from his face, was disjointed in his actions and spoke of aliens, according to the sheriff’s report.

Generally, people deemed 5150, a danger to themselves or others, are transported to a hospital for a medical clearance before being checked into a mental health facility. However, in this case Meche was arrested and jailed.

Shortly after 11 p.m., deputies placed Meche in cell five in the fishbowl, an area with glass fronted cells for observation of new arrestees. Shortly after entering his cell, Meche flailed on the ground for less than a minute and then stood up and began pacing, according to the sheriff’s report based on jail surveillance videos.

At 11:54 p.m., the video shows that Meche is on the floor again with his hands and legs moving. During several cell checks, deputies see Meche flailing on the ground, the report says.

At 12:15 a.m., after more than 20 minutes of flailing on the ground, Meche rolls onto his stomach and stops moving. At 12:26 a.m., a deputy attempts to rouse Meche who is lying unresponsive on the concrete floor streaked with blood from the wounds on his feet.

Shortly afterwards, deputies began performing CPR. Meche was pronounced dead at 1:49 a.m. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Coroner’s Office ruled the death accidental.

Timothy Richard Janowicz

Timothy Richard Janowicz

Timothy Richard Janowicz, 29, was found dead in his cell. Several weeks later, the sheriff’s department sent out a press release saying that Janowicz died of a heroin overdose.

On Dec. 18, following more than a half dozen records requests, the sheriff’s department released both the autopsy and coroner’s report which describe bruises, gashes and multiple needle marks on Janowicz’ body.

In addition, the coroners report says that jail staff had not seen Janowicz for 10 hours before his death even though jail policy is to enter group cells every 30 minutes.

David Thomas Osborn Sr.

On Jan. 11, 2015, Morro Bay resident David Thomas Osborn Sr., 63, died in the SLO County Jail.

A day earlier, Morro Bay police arrested Osborn for drunk in public shortly before 1 p.m. He was released four hours later and then rearrested at 8:38 p.m., again for drunk in public.

He would be pronounced dead nine hours later.

During his time in custody, Osborn regularly complained that his blood sugar was off and that he needed medical care.

As is common in arrests where there are medical concerns, Morro Bay Police officers transported Osborn to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center for a medical clearance. He was cleared and booked into the jail on Jan. 10 at 12:11 a.m.

During his time in the intake area, a frigid group of cells with glass doors and concrete benches, he complained multiple times that he was in distress.

At 2:30 a.m. and 7:15 a.m., he was seen by jail medical staff, said Tony Cipolla, the sheriff’s department public information officer, in a press release.

At 8:49 a.m., Osborn was allowed to leave the intake cell and he walked to the jail medical office and sat on a concrete bench to await medical care. He then collapsed in front of his jailers who used an automated external defibrillator in an attempt to revive the Morro Bay man.

At 9:57 a.m., Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center personnel pronounced Osborn dead.

Sean Michael Alexander

On March 24, 2015, Sean Michael Alexander, 33, of Pismo Beach, died in the jail of swelling of the brain. After being in jail for six days, jail staff shut off the water to Alexander’s toilet, but left the sink water on, sheriff staff said.

A day later, deputies found Alexander kneeling over his water soaked bed. He was unresponsive and not breathing. While deputies performed CPR, Alexander vomited water.

The coroner ruled Alexander’s death natural, caused by a microscopic encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.

Jordan Benjamin Turner

On Sept. 20, 2016, Jordan Benjamin Turner, 36, of Paso Robles, used a razor to commit suicide.

The day before his death, Turner requested a razor so he could shave before a court appearance scheduled for the next day, according to a sheriff’s office press release. It is standard procedure to issue a safety razor to inmates scheduled to appear in court, the press release states. The news release does not say whether Turner was given a safety razor.

Nicole Honait Luxor

On July 16, 2016, Nicole Honait Luxor, 62, of Paso Robles, died in the hospital from gall bladder cancer.

Andrew Holland

Andrew Chaylon Holland

On Jan. 22, 2017, Andrew Chaylon Holland, 36, from Atascadero, died of a pulmonary embolism in his lung after being strapped in a restraint chair for more than 46 hours.

On Jan. 20, deputies strapped Holland naked in a restraint chair in the jail’s frigid drunk tank where he remained until shortly before his death. During that time, deputies failed to provide Holland with adequate food and water or allow him to use a restroom.

While in the chair, a blood clot formed in Holland’s leg. Upon Holland’s release from the chair, the blood clot traveled to his right lung causing a pulmonary embolism and his death.

Shortly after Holland’s death, the FBI launched an investigation into a series of deaths at the county jail.

Since 2011, when Parkinson was sworn in as sheriff, 12 people have died while in San Luis Obispo County Jail custody, more than twice the number who died in the prior six years, according to the California Department of Justice.

In July 2017, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay a $5 million settlement to Holland’s parents.

Kevin Lee McLaughlin

On April 13, 2017, Kevin Lee McLaughlin, 60, of San Luis Obispo, died in the SLO County Jail of a heart attack.

For several months before the 60-year-old man died in the jail, a doctor at the jail prescribed the inmate high doses of a medication the FDA warned that taken regularly could lead to heart attacks in patients with high blood pressure.

On the evening of April 14, McLaughlin complained of chest pain, shoulder pain and numbness in his arm that had started a day earlier, according to jail records. McLaughlin also complained of increasing arm pain and heart palpitations.

“I’m clammy,” McLaughlin said. “I need to go to the hospital.”

The nurse denied McLaughlin’s request, and gave him Tylenol before sending him back to bed. Less than an hour later, jail staff discovered McLaughlin was not breathing and had no pulse, according to jail records.

After he was jailed, McLaughlin asked for the same medications he took for high blood pressure, depression and pain, according to jail medical records. County doctors prescribed him some of the same medications.

But, three days after his arrest Dr. Kristopher Howalt prescribed McLaughlin 1,200 mg of Ibuprofen a day. On Feb. 14, Howalt increased McLaughlin’s dose to 1,600 mg a day. At the time of his death, McLaughlin was still taking 1,600 mg of Ibuprofen a day, according to jail records.

In 2005, the FDA issued a warning that Ibuprofen increases the risk of heart attacks and should be used only for short term in small doses for people with heart disease. That warning was strengthened in July 2015 saying that it is best for people with high blood pressure to avoid taking Ibuprofen at all.

Russell Alan Hammer

On Nov. 27, 2017, Russell Alan Hammer, 62, of Hanford, died of a deep vein thrombosis after being brought to the jail’s medical facility.

Early in the morning, Hammer told a guard that he was feeling ill. While staffers were moving Hammer in a wheelchair to the medical unit, he lost consciousness.

On Nov. 6, Morro Bay police arrested Hammer after he allegedly stabbed his wife at a Morro Bay recreational vehicle park. Hammer’s wife survived the attack and objected to her husband arrest. Hammer suffered from health and memory issues, sources said.

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