SLO Tribune reporter wins McClatchy President's Award for jail death coverage

Matt Fountain, San Luis Obispo Tribune staff reporter
Matt Fountain, San Luis Obispo Tribune staff reporter jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Tribune reporter Matt Fountain received the McClatchy Co.'s top journalism award on Monday for his coverage of inmate Andrew Holland's death at San Luis Obispo County Jail.

The McClatchy President's Awards, now in their 18th year, recognize the best work of 2017 by the company’s 30 newsrooms. The company gave out 12 awards nationwide this year.

Fountain was commended for his work telling the story of Holland, the 36-year-old schizophrenic man who died after being held, immobile and naked, in a restraint chair in County Jail for 46 hours in January 2017.

The county's medical examiner ruled Holland's cause of death as "natural" due to an pulmonary embolism, when a blood clot in his leg traveled to his lung.

The coverage led to Fountain subsequently obtaining and publishing surveillance video from inside the jail showing Holland's supervision in his final hours — video that led to public outrage over the treatment of Holland and some of the claims by local officials in explaining what happened.

The judges of the award called Fountain’s work “accountability journalism that is forcing real change in the way jailers treat mentally ill inmates.”

In addition to The Tribune, three other McClatchy newsrooms were honored for work that exposed wrongdoing in America’s prisons and jails — The Miami Herald, The Charlotte Observer, The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

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“We are very proud of the extraordinary diligence, passion and commitment of our winning journalists who have excelled this year in continuing the strong tradition of watchdog reporting at McClatchy,” said Craig Forman, McClatchy’s president and CEO, in a statement. “Our annual awards illuminate the importance of local news and the essential role it plays in our communities, for our society and in strengthening our democracy.”

Judging this year’s competition were Tim Grieve, McClatchy’s vice president for news, plus three top college newspaper journalists: Isabella Cueto, editor-in-chief of The Miami Hurricane at the University of Miami; Hannah Knowles, editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily at Stanford University, and Kelly Powers, editor-in-chief of The Daily Collegian at Penn State University.