Judge threatens to fine state over SLO County Jail’s mental health inmates

A San Luis Obispo County judge is considering fining the California Department of State Hospitals over the continuing failure to accept mentally ill inmates.

For years, the mentally ill have languished in the county jail even though the court has ordered the sheriff’s department to either transfer the mentally ill inmates to ASH or the county’s psychiatric facility in San Luis Obispo. In a 2015 inspection report, the county was found in violation of Title 15 because of the mistreatment of mentally ill inmates held at the county jail.

In Nov. 2016, CalCoastNews reporters asked the SLO County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office, Mental Health Department and the state court why mentally ill inmates were not being transferred to mental health facilities as court ordered and who was responsible. At the time, officials from the district attorney’s office and the court administration office said their agencies were not responsible for making sure inmates received court ordered mental health evaluations.

Officials from the sheriff’s department claimed that inmates were being transferred from the jail to mental health facilities in a timely manner. The county health department director admitted the county mental health facility had not been accepting inmates accused of felonies, but said those issues had been corrected.

“It was an oversight that has been corrected,” said former County Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm in an Dec. 14, 2016 email.

In Jan. 2017, two mentally ill men, who the county had failed to promptly transfer to a mental health facility, died while in county custody.

Early in the  summer of 2016, police arrested 56-year-old Anthony Vazquez on a misdemeanor charge and booked him into the San Luis Obispo County Jail. A San Luis Obispo County Court judge then dropped the charges and ordered Vazquez transferred to the county mental health facility.

While being held in solitary confinement, Vazquez spiraled downhill both mentally and physically, jail staffers said. In Oct. 2016, the county transferred Vazquez to a mental health facility.

In late Dec. 2106, Vazquez begged for medical help saying he thought he was dying, sources said. County health care providers denied his request.

Several weeks later, Vazquez’ blood pressure dropped. He was rushed to French Hospital Medical Center where he died as the result of a gastrointestinal bleed, sources said.

On Jan. 10, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Duffy ordered the sheriff’s department to transfer inmate Andrew Holland to Atascadero State Hospital (ASH). He was not transferred.

On Jan. 20, guards transferred Holland to the drunk tank and strapped him naked into a restraint chair, dubbed the “devil’s chair” by critics. In the hard plastic chair, detainee’s ankles, legs, abdomen, chest, wrists and arms are strapped down.

On Jan. 22, Holland died of a blood clot after being strapped in the restraint chair for more than 46 hours.

On Thursday, Judge Ginger Garrett set a hearing for May 10 to decide on whether or not to fine the Department of State Hospitals for refusing to accept mentally ill inmates from the SLO County Jail. Garrett could find the state agency in contempt of court and fine it up to $1,500 per violation.