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DA Dan Dow says its the sheriff's responsibility — not his — to investigate jail deaths

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow issued a statement on Andrew Holland's death at the County Jail last year. "The loss of Andrew Holland is tragic," Dow said. "No parent should ever have to bury their child, at any age, for any reason."
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow issued a statement on Andrew Holland's death at the County Jail last year. "The loss of Andrew Holland is tragic," Dow said. "No parent should ever have to bury their child, at any age, for any reason." jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow has released a statement on Andrew Holland's death in County Jail last year, saying it is the long-standing county legal policy for every jail death to be investigated by sheriff-coroner detectives, not his office, and that he can't comment on the details of the case amid the ongoing FBI investigation.

He also expressed his desire to see the jail system improved to prevent future deaths. —

The Tribune's release of a surveillance video on Friday of Holland's final hours after being strapped to a restraint chair for 46 hours at the jail has sparked national and international news coverage of Holland's death.

Over the weekend, protesters called for Dow to initiate an investigation, holding signs stating "Dan Dow Investigate Now!" Activists also called for Sheriff Ian Parkinson to resign.

Dow's response

In an three-paragraph statement released to The Tribune on Monday, Dow stated that "since the FBI currently has asserted federal jurisdiction over the Holland case and is conducting an active investigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the details of this case."

"The loss of Andrew Holland is tragic," Dow said. "No parent should ever have to bury their child, at any age, for any reason. The county has taken important measures to better serve inmates with mental illness."

Holland, 36, who suffered from schizophrenia, died on Jan. 22, 2017, after spending nearly two full days in a restraint chair; when he was released, he was left lying naked and alone in a neighboring cell, where he video shows him writhing on the ground before losing consciousness.

Attempts by deputies and medical staff to revive him were unsuccessful.

"It is my sincere desire that we continue to improve our jail system so that other families do not have to go through the heartache of losing a loved one while in the county's custody," Dow said.

He cited the measures taken in recent months of a new mental health task force established by the sheriff and the decision by the county Board of Supervisors to transfer to the sheriff the supervision of all medical and and mental health staff in the jail.

While Dow's office didn't investigate the Holland case, he did note that Sheriff Ian Parkinson requested that his office examine the jail death of Kevin McLaughlin three months later in April.

Parkinson's response

As protesters called for Sheriff Ian Parkinson to step down, holding a rally over the weekend in which activists shared two-hour stretches in a makeshift restraint chair over a 46-hour period, Parkinson released a statement Saturday afternoon, saying the mental health system failed Holland.

"The Mental Health Department refused to accept him, claiming that they were at 'capacity,'" Parkinson's statement said. "It was later determined that their claim was untrue and Mental Health could have taken custody of Mr. Holland for treatment. Two doctors, one from Mental Health and one from Public Health, conferred about the Holland case on that Friday night and refused to have him transferred to the Mental Health facility for treatment. They also failed to adopt a plan to involuntarily sedate the inmate."

Jail Protest
Several San Luis Obispo County advocacy groups participated in a protest Saturday to demand justice following a video released by The Tribune on Friday that showed inmate Andrew Holland's death at County Jail last year. For 46 hours from 1 p.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Monday, activists took turns sitting in a makeshift restraint chair. Tim Jouet of San Luis Obispo was the first person to sit in the chair. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

The statement says the Sheriff's Office "had no alternative" other than to place Holland in restraints. Use of restraints is strictly regulated by a six-page set of rules, the statement says, and the Sheriff's Office followed those rules "at all times during this incident."

The $5 million settlement awarded to the Holland family in July "came from the medical malpractice insurance of County Mental Health; it was not based on any wrong-doing of the Sheriff's Office," the statement said.

"For several years before this incident the Sheriff’s Office had requested that the county provide authority to allow mental health staff at the County Jail to involuntarily medicate violent inmates," the statement said. "Following this incident, the Sheriff’s Office requested, and the County approved, the hiring of a Chief Medical Officer (CMO) to serve exclusively at the County Jail; which finally gives the Sheriff’s Office CMO authority to sedate violent inmates."

Dow's opponent in this year's race for district attorney, Judge Mike Cummins, also has vowed to investigate the handling of Holland's custody by the Sheriff's Office and jail staff if he is seated.

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