SLO County to pay $5 million settlement for inmate’s death after 46 hours in restraint chair

The family of a 36-year-old Atascadero man who died in San Luis Obispo County Jail custody in January will receive a $5 million settlement from the county that they plan to use to advocate for mentally ill people trapped in the criminal justice system.

But while agreeing that county officials have made changes to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again, the family of Andrew Holland called upon Sheriff Ian Parkinson to resign over their son’s death and the “blatant cover-up” that followed.

“I think the manly thing to do is for him to resign,” Andrew Holland’s father, Carty, said at a news conference held by the family Thursday morning.

In response, County Counsel Rita Neal said Parkinson “is as saddened as anyone over the death of Andrew Holland. He is focused and directing his energy to assure that changes and improvements continue to be made so that this type of incident doesn’t happen again.”

Holland, 36, died of an embolism Jan. 22 after spending 46 hours strapped to a restraint chair inside a glass observation cell normally used to sober inmates.

The San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office ruled the death was “natural,” despite finding that the prolonged seated position caused the embolism and that the death was due to a blood clot that had formed in his leg. In April, Parkinson said that jail staff followed all protocols during Holland’s two days in restraints and that the restraint chair did not cause the blood clot to form.

But the family disputed the findings of the county’s contracted coroner, who was facing discipline from the state medical board for a DUI and was on a last-chance agreement with the Sheriff’s Office when he performed Holland’s autopsy. The family’s attorney, Paula Canny, said Holland’s death was a direct result from his time in the restraint chair.

In announcing the settlement Thursday in a news release, Assistant County Administrative Officer Guy Savage called Holland’s death at County Jail “a tragedy that should never have happened. It’s clear that counties and jails across the nation face systemic problems as the number of inmates with mental illness continues to climb. We are focused on fixing those problems here in San Luis Obispo County.”

Holland, who the family says was diagnosed as schizophrenic at age 22, had been held at the County Jail since September 2016 on suspicion of assault on a peace officer. Court records show he had been ordered by a judge to be removed from the jail and treated at the county’s in-patient psychiatric facility 12 days before his death, but was not transferred.

The Sheriff’s Office has said that Holland was placed in the glass cell because he had been “inflicting injury on himself.” It did not disclose that jail staff had used the restraint chair until the coroner’s final report became public in April.

At the press conference, Canny said surveillance video footage of Holland in the observation cell showed he wasn’t struggling with jail staff. The video was provided to the Holland family by County Counsel Neal in a good faith agreement that the family would not release it publicly, Canny said.

“People would be horrified if that was Guantanamo (Bay) — this is San Luis Obispo,” Canny said of the video footage she watched. The Tribune has filed a public records request for the video.

Holland collapsed about 20 minutes after being released from the chair, which Canny called a “torture device” that has been barred in other states and California counties.

As an example, she said, an Oklahoma county sheriff and five others were arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter this week for the death of a 58-year-old inmate who was tied to a similar restraint chair in county jail for 48 hours.

The SLO County Sheriff’s Office completed its investigation into Holland’s death in April and no disciplinary measures have been disclosed.

The county’s news release stated that the county health agency has changed protocols to ensure that its psychiatric facility can now promptly accept mentally ill inmates who are a danger to themselves and others. It also said it has:

▪ Restricted the amount of time an inmate can spend in a safety cell to a maximum of 72 hours. After 48 hours in a safety cell, an inmate must be cleared for jail housing, cleared for an extended stay in a safety cell by a health agency psychiatrist, admitted to the county psychiatric facility or transported to a hospital.

▪ The Sheriff’s Office and the health agency have added dedicated supervision of the medically and mentally ill inmates at County Jail and have increased communication between the sheriff’s staff and health agency staff.

The Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that it had permanently stopped using the restraint chair.

It’s unclear what might happen should the county fail to live up to the reforms.

At Thursday’s press conference, the Holland family said it will establish the Andrew Holland Foundation to advocate for mentally ill people trapped in the criminal justice system. The foundation will also push for legislation to ban the use of restraint chairs in California.

Holland’s parents and older brother Corban also spoke of their disappointment in dealing with the Sheriff’s Office before and after Andrew’s death. His dad, Carty Holland, said that the family once supported Parkinson and hosted a fundraiser benefit for one of his campaigns at their Atascadero ranch.

“It’s been nearly six months or more (since Andrew’s death) and I haven’t received a call, and neither has my wife, saying, ‘We’re sorry about your son’s death,’” Carty Holland said. “It’s not like he (Parkinson) didn’t know who we were.”

“We need someone who knows and cares about more than political expediency — somebody who’s more than good at benefits, somebody who’s more than popular,” said Sharon Holland, Andrew’s mother. “We need somebody who really knows what they are doing.”

In April, after the cardiac arrest death of another jail inmate, Parkinson said that he asked for an outside investigation by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI into any deaths at the jail. He did so after Kevin McLaughlin, who asked to go to the hospital for shoulder pain and numbness, died of a heart attack April 13.

But Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham on Thursday said his office was never asked to investigate Holland’s death and never did so. He said the DA’s Office only investigates inmate deaths if they’re requested by another agency or if there is a reason to believe criminal conduct is involved. He said his office was only asked to investigate McLaughlin’s death, and is in the final stages of that investigation.

Information about whether the FBI was investigating any of the deaths was not available Thursday.

The county said in a statement that the $5 million settlement to the Holland family will be paid through the county’s medical malpractice insurance, minus a $10,000 deductible.

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