‘Steps of love’: Vigil honors anniversary of Andrew Holland’s death at SLO County Jail

Standing before more than 100 supporters in a vigil Monday outside the San Luis Obispo County Jail where his son lost his life, Carty Holland strained to get the words out.

“We’ve got a lot of warriors here,” Holland said on the first anniversary of his son’s death. “We are going to continue to fight for those that can’t fight for themselves — those that have severe mental illness.”

Holland’s son, Andrew, died Jan. 22, 2017, after jail custody staff and employees of the county health agency left him in a plastic restraint chair for nearly two days.

Andrew, 36, had suffered for more than a decade from schizophrenia and had by the time of his death spent about 16 months in County Jail for what was originally a misdemeanor offense. His death highlighted dysfunction between local law enforcement, mental health services and the court system, resulting in a $5 million settlement from the county to the Holland family.

The family says it’s using that money to form the Andrew Holland Foundation to advocate for people with mental illness stuck in the criminal justice system.

Outside the Juvenile Services building on the County Jail campus Monday evening, family, friends and supporters of the Holland family and their crusade for reform braved the cold night for a silent walk to the main jail building in honor of Andrew.

“We are working to change a system that puts people who are suffering from mental illness in jail... so that nobody is subjected to the kind of torture that Andrew was subjected to,” said Paula Canny, the Holland family attorney. “We want to build a county that is a place of love and compassion and kindness. Each step we’re taking is a step of love. ... That’s why we’re here tonight.”

The vigil did not include anyone from the county, though one passing motorist who identified himself as a Sheriff’s Office employee leaving work asked about the vigil and extended his well wishes.

San Luis Obispo resident Charmaine Quinlan said she joined the vigil after meeting the Hollands the day before at church. Quinlan, who said she has loved ones with mental illness, said the local system is in crisis.

“And nobody seems to be doing anything about it,” Quinlan said.

Outside the jail, Carty Holland told the crowd that reforms made by the county are a start, but more needs to be done, including a change in culture within the jail.

“There needs to be a mentality change in this jail right here. And we’re not saying (sheriff’s employees) are bad people. They have bad thinking, and they need help,” he said. “They’ve talked about change, but it’s been a year, and what has really happened? Not that much.”

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1

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