By KAREN VELIE
More than a year after the FBI mounted a criminal investigation into alleged civil rights abuses of inmates at the San Luis Obispo County Jail, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into how the sheriff’s department is complying with federal laws.
As part of the investigation, the DOJ will look into whether the conditions at the jail violate the constitutional rights of its prisoners. If investigators determine the county is in violation, the federal government could mandate that the county implement changes and enter into an agreement to abide by constitutional requirements.
If the county fails to abide by the agreement, a federal receivership could occur.
Federal and state laws along with sheriff’s department policies and procedures are supposed to regulate the treatment of inmates. Nevertheless, it appears multiple rules and regulations were violated in the treatment of Andrew Holland, a mentally ill man who died in Jan. 2017 after being strapped in a restraint chair for two days in the San Luis Obispo County Jail.
Following Hollands death, the county paid a $5 million settlement to his parents and agreed to make multiple changes at the jail. Those changes included restricting the amount of time inmates can be locked in the rubber room to 72 hours, discontinuing use of the restraint chair and decreasing the amount of time it takes for the transfer of an inmate who has been court ordered to a mental health facility.
Even so, multiple county staffers at the jail, who have asked to remain unnamed to avoid retaliation, said that some correctional staffers continue to order medical and mental health personnel to write mental health holds in violation of legal requirements, and to write prescriptions when doctors are unavailable.
In addition, staffers report several instances of custody staff using excessive force against mentally ill inmates. In one occasion, a guard hit a mentally ill man who was lying face down on the ground, a staffer said.
The Department of Justice investigation is estimated to take at least eight months to complete.
“We welcome the investigation and any assistance and guidance to further improve areas identified by the Department of Justice,” Sheriff Ian Parkinson said.