Medical examiner in SLO County inmate death also linked to wrongful death claim

Diane Hill, center, holds a plaque given to her by co-workers of her son Donald “Donnie” Hill after his death. Attorneys Neil Gehlawat, left, and Thomas Seabaugh announced a pending lawsuit against the city of Lemoore.
Diane Hill, center, holds a plaque given to her by co-workers of her son Donald “Donnie” Hill after his death. Attorneys Neil Gehlawat, left, and Thomas Seabaugh announced a pending lawsuit against the city of Lemoore. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

The medical examiner who recently ruled a San Luis Obispo County inmate’s death as “natural” despite the man dying after jail staff restrained him in a plastic chair for nearly two days straight also conducted an inmate autopsy in Lemoore that is the subject of a wrongful death claim.

In March, the mother of a man who died after police put a spit hood on him and he reportedly vomited filed a claim with the city of Lemoore for wrongful death, in advance of filing a lawsuit. The initial autopsy showed that the inmate, Donald “Donnie” Hill, had minor scrapes and bruising but no visible injuries that would have led to his death, the Kings County Sheriff’s Office said. There were no obvious signs of health issues, and toxicology tests revealed no drugs or other interactions.

The final autopsy report by a forensic pathologist, Dr. Gary Walter, was issued March 16 by the Kings County Coroner’s Office. Hill died of cardiac dysrhythmia with an unknown cause, and the manner of death was listed as undetermined, according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office.

Andrew Chaylon Holland, pictured here in a 2015 family photograph, died Jan. 22, 2017, after a blood clot formed after he was restrained in a chair for nearly two days in San Luis Obispo County Jail. Courtesy photo

Walter, who has been the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office-contracted medical examiner since 2005, recently ruled the SLO County inmate’s death as “natural” after he was restrained for more than 46 straight hours. The family of Andrew Chaylon Holland disputes Walter’s report and says it plans to sue the county after the State Medical Board initiated proceedings April 10 to revoke or suspend Walter’s medical license following a DUI arrest last year. Walter was on his way to perform an autopsy when he was arrested, according to court records.

The Lemoore case

At a news conference next to City Hall on March 23, Hill’s mother, Diane Hill of Hanford, said the death of her son on New Year’s Eve has been devastating.

“There’s no words to say how much I miss him,” she said. “He was the sweetest son I could ever have.”

Attorney Neil Gehlawat of Bakersfield said there are many unanswered questions about Hill’s death.

Donald “Donnie” Hill. Family of Donald Hill

“We suspect the conduct of the officers led to his heart to stop beating,” Gehlawat said. The pending lawsuit will bring out more details, he said.

The city had 45 days to respond before attorneys could file a lawsuit in Kings County Superior Court and federal court.

Hill, 30, lived in San Diego where he had a civilian job with the Navy. On Dec. 31, 2016, he was in Lemoore, where he graduated from high school, and was visiting a brother and friends at home, his attorney said.

According to the Kings County Sheriff’s Office, which is doing an investigation, Hill began having bizarre interactions with family and friends, an ambulance crew and the Lemoore Police Department.

“Many described Hill’s actions as possibly being under the influence of drugs or of psychotic outbursts,” a Sheriff’s Office news release said. “Donald would appear to regain some form of composure and request no interaction with mental health or other medical services.”

In the evening, family members of Hill called police to report that his behavior had become even more bizarre and that family members had to restrain him, the news release said.

Police handcuffed him and “placed a spit hood over his head to prevent him from further spitting incidents,” the news release said.

He was placed onto the floor on his side and became unresponsive, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The lawyer for Diane Hill said her son had vomited.

American Ambulance performed lifesaving measures and took him to Adventist Medical Center. He was pronounced dead at 8:50 p.m.