A former inmate at the San Luis Obispo County Jail is seeking damages against the county, saying she witnessed deputies and jail staff laughing and talking outside the cell of a deceased inmate while she cleaned the man’s former soiled cell without protective gear.
Sherry Roy, 52, filed a claim against the county July 20, alleging she was subject to intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, abuse of power and other injuries while witnessing the reaction to Andrew Holland’s death and being locked in a neighboring cell with hazardous waste.
She’s seeking damages in excess of $25,000.
Administrative claims are the first step in a civil lawsuit and represent only one side of the story. County Counsel Rita Neal said Thursday that Roy volunteered for the job knowing that inmates in the work release program may be assigned to clean cells and that she was given protective clothes.
Neal said the county plans to reject Roy’s claim.
Holland, 36, died on the floor of a cell from an embolism caused by a blood clot about 20 minutes after being released from a plastic restraint chair he was held in for 46 hours. Holland, who had schizophrenia, was restrained because he was harming himself, the county has said. The county announced a $5 million settlement with Holland’s family on July 27, calling his death “a tragedy that should never have happened.”
Roy, of Lompoc, was booked into jail in December for a probation violation stemming from a 2013 grand theft conviction, according to court records.
On the evening of Jan. 22, according to Roy’s claim, she and another female inmate volunteered to perform work in order to collect good behavior credits, and were given a pair of latex gloves, a mop, a bucket and a janitor’s cart.
The claim states they were taken to the jail’s inmate reception center, which contains glass-doored cells used for sobering and temporary holding of inmates and overseen by correctional deputies at a center console. According to the claim, Roy says she was overwhelmed by the smell of human feces as she walked down the hall.
She and the other inmate were led by a deputy into an empty sobering cell whose floor was covered in human waste and which contained the mobile restraint chair, which was also soiled, the claim reads.
“Correctional officer told (Roy) that the inmate had been moved (so Roy) could clean what was described to (Roy) as ‘piss and shit’ before putting the inmate back into the restraint chair,” the claim reads.
County Counsel Neal disputed that allegation Thursday, saying no county staff member told Roy that Holland was going back into the chair.
Roy’s claim says the two inmates — wearing jail garb, latex gloves and jail-issued sandals — scooped up the feces with paper towels. “(Roy) remained in fear of contracting a disease from waste and fluids,” the claim reads.
Neal on Thursday said that Roy was given work shoes and 3/4-length sleeve rubber gloves.
When Roy pulled the chair out of the cell to clean it, the claim says, Roy saw a man, who she would later identify through media reports as Holland, lying naked, crumpled and motionless on the concrete floor of the neighboring cell.
While outside the cell, Roy allegedly watched as a jail staff member asked a correctional deputy watching Holland from outside the cell door what was happening with Holland.
“One correctional officer, when asked, said that the man was ‘holding his breath,’ ” the claim reads.
Roy returned to clean the inside of the soiled cell, the claim says, and was locked inside when medical personnel began gathering outside Holland’s cell. Though she could not hear through the door, Roy told The Tribune in an interview Thursday, she saw emergency technicians enter Holland’s cell with a gurney, only to exit minutes later with the gurney empty, she said.
The way (the guards and paramedics) were acting wasn’t businesslike, it was like a gathering — all they needed was a BBQ.
She told The Tribune that jail staff eventually placed a room divider in front of their cell so she couldn’t see what was going on, but before then, she watched as deputies and jail staff stood around the center console and talked.
“I was astonished because the way they were acting wasn’t businesslike, it was like a gathering — all they needed was a BBQ,” Roy said.
After about an hour cleaning the cell, Roy told The Tribune, the inmates were led back to their dorm. She asked her escorting guard if the man next door had died, but the guard didn’t respond. She said she immediately asked for a pencil and paper to document the event.
When she was released in February, Roy said Thursday she read about Holland’s death in media reports containing the name of Holland’s family’s attorney, Paula Canny. She said she contacted Canny to share what she saw. Canny is now representing Roy in her administrative claim.
Asked why she came forward, Roy said she wants to go to therapy for her distress and wants to see someone held accountable.
“I think about it a lot,” Roy told The Tribune. “They knew they done something bad.”
The county has denied a Tribune public records request for the surveillance video from the time Holland and Roy were allegedly in the intake area, saying Holland’s death remains under investigation.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson, who has disputed that the chair led to Holland’s death, knew that he had been placed in the chair but was unaware of the duration of Holland’s restraint at the time of his death, according to Neal.
Since Holland’s death, the county says it has made changes to ensure better treatment of mentally ill inmates, but Holland’s family has called on Parkinson to resign.
Last month, another former County Jail inmate who was housed in a cell next to Holland on Jan. 22 during the throes of a mental health emergency also filed a claim against the county, alleging he was hog-tied, disfigured and denied medical treatment while at the jail. That claim is still open.
Since January 2012, 11 inmates have died while in County Jail custody. The FBI opened a formal investigation into Holland’s death and alleged civil rights abuses at the County Jail in May.