Andrew Holland’s parents speak out about video of son’s death in SLO County Jail
Carty and Sharon Holland were en route to a weekend camping trip — a wedding anniversary getaway — when they got a call from NBC for their reaction to the public release of a surveillance video on their son Andrew's death in County Jail in January 2017.
They were well aware that the video, detailing the tragic end of their son's life after 46 hours in a restraint chair, was causing a stir after it was first posted by The Tribune on Friday.
"We got the call and decided it would be best to turn around and come back," said Carty Holland. "We tried our escape thing, but it didn't work out."
Over the past few days, their son's story has been widely covered, with media organizations including NBC Nightly News, the New York Daily News, Fox News, The Guardian, the Associated Press, and Oxygen — not to mention local news organizations — posting reports related to the shocking footage.
The video from that day shows deputies watching from outside the cell as Holland, 36, writhed on the floor, struggled to breathe and lost consciousness. Some deputies are captured laughing at several points throughout the footage.
"In the aftermath, we were grateful for the new (video) information being put out there," Carty Holland said. "For a long time, it was simply us — the immediate family — that was beating the drum on this."
The Hollands said they were heartened to see the community response in the form of a weekend protest where activists traded two-hour shifts in a restraint chair.
"That type of public support, particularly from the mayor of San Luis Obispo, Heidi Harmon, lifted our spirits so much," Carty Holland said. "Our approach has been, let's reveal the truth and let the truth guide us forward."
The Hollands say they're not out to remove Sheriff Ian Parkinson from his job, but they want systematic change in the jail system to prevent similar deaths, and that starts from the top. Their confidence in achieving change will inform their vote in the upcoming sheriff's election.
"We need people to change, and not just policies and procedures," Sharon Holland said.
The Hollands said that Parkinson has never met with them to speak about potential jail system changes.
"This is not a personal vendetta," Holland said. "We've never been out to get the sheriff."
Sharon Holland said they would have liked to hear more from him, however, about his commitment to solutions.
"If he had just said, 'Oh no, this is wrong; I will work my hardest that this will never happen again,' that would have gone a long way,'" Sharon Holland said. "We're not out for anyone's hide. But the system has to be reformed."
In response to those claims, Parkinson sent an email to The Tribune Monday evening saying "I have the utmost sympathy for the entire Holland family. I am truly saddened for what they've gone through during this tragedy. I have never stopped thinking of this since the day it happened."
"I have known some members of the family for over 20 years and can’t begin to fathom their sadness," Parkinson said.
"I have not sat down with the Holland family because we were advised by their attorney not to reach out to any member of the family because they did not want to speak with me." Parkinson added. "I have always been willing to sit down and talk with them and discuss it, offer my sincere apologies to them and involve them in the process of change."
The Hollands say models of effective programs for mentally ill people exist around the country and world, including in North Dakota and Norway, where recidivism has sharply dropped.
Mentally ill people "should be put in treatment, not in jail," Carty Holland said.
"Jail custodial staff doesn't have the training, understanding or empathy," Sharon Holland said.
Programs that offer humane approaches to rehabilitation can work extraordinarily well under the right conditions, the Hollands said they added that the solutions should be bipartisan.
"I really hope that our local political environment hasn't become so caustic that even decisions of life and death fall into the camps of the left and the right," Carty Holland said.
In his emailed statement, Parkinson said the Sheriff's has made changes striving "to avoid something like this from ever happening again but also to make changes to how we deal with subjects with mental health issues in our society."
"Those changes were presented in front of the Board of Supervisors and are in various stages of completion," Parkinson said. "We are committed to creating a better system and find ways to help people on the street and in custody stay out of the criminal justice system. Our focus continues to be to change a broken mental health system."
Update: This story has been updated to reflect statements issued to The Tribune by Sheriff Ian Parkinson.