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Before jail death settlement, SLO County paid damages to one other inmate since 2012

Ten former inmates of the San Luis Obispo County Jail have filed 11 claims for damages since January 2012. All but four have been rejected, and none resulted in any financial settlements, according to a Tribune review of county records.

The county has paid pre-claim settlements in two other inmate cases, however — $5 million to the family of Andrew Holland, a mentally ill inmate who was strapped to a restraint chair for 46 hours in January and died of an embolism about 20 minutes after being released, and $100,000 to an inmate who claimed he got a rash from handcuffs.

Administrative claims are the first step to filing a lawsuit. The county must accept or reject them within 45 days of filing.

The county provided the documents to The Tribune at the newspaper’s request for inmate claims that sought damages for treatment or incidents related to their time in jail. The Tribune did not review several claims that the Office of County Counsel says were filed by inmates who alleged they weren’t returned cash or personal items they turned over during the booking process.

Treatment of County Jail inmates has been scrutinized since Holland’s death in January, and the FBI opened a formal investigation into alleged civil rights violations at the jail in May. Since January 2012, 11 County Jail inmates have died while in custody from a host of causes ranging from pre-existing medical conditions to drug overdoses to suicide.

In a statement announcing the Holland settlement, the county called Holland’s death “a tragedy that should have never happened,” and pledged to implement specific reforms to improve treatment of jail inmates with mental and physical health needs. The settlement was awarded before a claim was officially filed.

The accusation that resulted in the $100,000 settlement never made it to a county claim, either, as it was filed in federal court. In what originated as an allegation that handcuffs caused a rash, former inmate Edmond Paul Price’s filing went back and forth from federal court to appeals court for three years, according to court records.

County Counsel Rita Neal said the county ultimately made a business decision and settled the matter to avoid incurring more fees with its contract counsel.

Attorney Paula Canny talks about the circumstances surrounding Andrew Holland's death in San Luis Obispo County Jail. Holland died of an embolism Jan. 22 after spending 46 hours strapped to a restraint chair.

Seven of the 11 claims filed by inmates were rejected:

▪  One unsuccessful claim alleged civil rights violations;

▪  One claimed an inmate wasn’t properly treated by jail medical staff;

▪  One inmate filed two unsuccessful claims, both in 2014, alleging he contracted a bacterial infection while cleaning a safety cell as part of his work-release program, and that he chipped his teeth on a piece of metal in his cole slaw;

▪  Two inmates filed unsuccessful claims with the county over jail staff’s alleged failure to prevent physical injuries suffered at the hands of other inmates;

▪  Another claimed he slipped and fell in the shower.

Of the four pending claims, one former inmate is seeking $5 million, alleging that his arrest was a kidnapping, and another said he wasn’t given proper medication. The county plans to reject those claim, Neal said.

In another pending claim, a former inmate who was booked into jail during a mental health episode says he was hog-tied by deputies, and refused medical treatment for self-inflicted injuries to his eyes that resulted in disfigurement. Neal said the county plans to reject the claim.

Another former inmate filed a claim last month seeking damages for emotional distress, alleging she witnessed Holland’s death and jail staff negligence as she cleaned Holland’s soiled cell as part of the jail’s work release program. Neal said the county plans to reject this claim too.

None of the claimants remained in custody at the San Luis Obispo County Jail as of Friday, according to jail records.

According to county records, all of the unsuccessful claims were handled through the county’s general liability program and did not result in Superior Court lawsuits.

The two pre-claim settlements were managed through the county’s medical malpractice program. Under that program, the county pays a $10,000 deductible and the rest of the settlement is covered by the county’s insurance provider. Neal said Friday that it’s too early to tell if the county’s malpractice insurance premiums or deductibles will increase following the Holland settlement.

Carty and Sharon Holland — the parents of Andrew Holland, who died in jail custody — said their son had hope for a better life. They want to see procedures changed at the San Luis Obispo County Jail.

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