Local

FBI jail death investigation ramps up — agents coming to conduct interviews in SLO County

San Luis Obispo County Jail is the subject of an investigation by the FBI, which has been investigating alleged civil rights abuses since at least March 2017 in the wake of a high-profile series of inmate deaths.
San Luis Obispo County Jail is the subject of an investigation by the FBI, which has been investigating alleged civil rights abuses since at least March 2017 in the wake of a high-profile series of inmate deaths. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The FBI is expected to visit San Luis Obispo County next week to carry out interviews with potential witnesses related to the agency's ongoing investigation into alleged civil rights abuses at County Jail, The Tribune has learned.

Two recipients of correspondence from an FBI special agent shared their communications Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of concerns about retaliation or adverse affects on the investigation.

In what appears to be a mass email, an FBI special agent wrote that the FBI is scheduling voluntary interviews Tuesday through Thursday at Camp San Luis Obispo. The email said if recipients choose not to be interviewed, they may be subpoenaed to testify before a duly empaneled grand jury at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. The interviews are expected to last about an hour each.

Andrew Holland died while in custody at San Luis Obispo County Jail in 2017, after being restrained for 46 hours. This is a look at the events that led to his death, the county's response and the inmates who have died in custody since Holland.

It's unclear how many county employees received interview requests. In response to a request for comment Wednesday, San Luis Obispo County Counsel Rita Neal wrote in an email that the county "is aware of the FBI investigation and is fully cooperating."

Since 2012, 12 inmates have died in San Luis Obispo County Jail custody. In January 2017, Atascadero resident Andrew Holland died of an embolism brought on by a blood clot after being left in a full-body restraint chair for about 46 hours.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller previously said the agency's investigation was spurred by Holland's death, which she said resulted in at least one citizen civil rights complaint. Eimiller said the investigation was formally launched in May 2017.

She said the investigation was not the result of Sheriff Ian Parkinson's April 13, 2017, invitation to the FBI to investigate inmate Kevin Lee McLaughlin's death or “any jail death that’s occurred that they felt was worthy of their own investigation.”

For 46 hours starting March 17, 2018, activists are taking turns sitting in a makeshift restraint chair in San Luis Obispo — one for each hour that County Jail inmate Andrew Holland spent strapped in the device until shortly before his death in 2017.

Members of Holland's family previously told The Tribune that they were interviewed by FBI agents as early as March 2017.

Eimiller said Wednesday that she could neither confirm nor deny whether the agency is conducting local interviews next week.

Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson sits down for his first in-person interview with The Tribune regarding inmate Andrew Holland's death at the County Jail.

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