Crime

‘I need to go to the hospital,’ SLO jail inmate said before deadly heart attack

A 60-year-old County Jail inmate died of a heart attack while in custody in April within an hour of asking to go to the hospital for pain, numbness and tingling in his shoulder, a coroner’s report released by the Sheriff’s Office says.

However, the report also states that Kevin Lee McLaughlin also told a jail medical staffer that it was possible he slept on his arm wrong before he was sent back to bed in his low-security dorm.

McLaughlin of San Luis Obispo was found unresponsive in his bunk about 45 minutes later and pronounced dead shortly afterward.

McLaughlin’s April 13 death marks the 11th in-custody death of a County Jail inmate since January 2012. Three months earlier, Andrew Holland, a 36-year-old Atascadero man diagnosed with schizophrenia who was held at the jail despite a court order to transfer him to a psychiatric facility, died after being strapped to a plastic restraint chair for more than 46 hours in a glass observation cell normally used for sobering inmates.

State law states that inmates can not be consecutively restrained for that long, nor can they be held in what’s known as the “drunk tank” unless they are sobering up. Holland’s death was ruled “natural” despite being caused by a pulmonary embolism brought on by a blood clot in his leg that formed while strapped to the chair. Holland’s family says his death was a direct result of his treatment at the jail.

The recent deaths have spurred community outcry, but Sheriff Ian Parkinson maintains that jail correctional and medical staff are overburdened by inmates with serious consistent physical and mental health issues, which he blames on state law that brought more inmates to county jails across the state.

A civil county Grand Jury investigation early this month found that there’s a lack of oversight and responsibility for inmates’ well-being at the jail. The Grand Jury noted that jail staff are in violation of the state’s Title 15 inmate welfare requirements. The Grand Jury said it was stymied in investigating the specific inmate deaths, and stopped short of recommending anything beyond a top-down review of policy by the Sheriff’s Office and the Public Health Agency.

According to the coroner’s report, McLaughlin’s death was caused by cardiac arrhythmia due to acute and chronic ischemic heart disease and hypertensive cardiovascular disease. The autopsy was conducted by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office following disciplinary action taken against SLO County’s longtime contracted medical examiner, which Parkinson did not disclose at a press conference the day of McLaughlin’s death.

The report states that according to jail medical records, McLaughlin complained of “left shoulder pain, including numbness and tingling,” and was evaluated near the jail’s main dorm at approximately 2:30 a.m.

“The decedent was quoted as saying, ‘I’m clammy — I need to go to the hospital,’” the report reads. “The decedent also stated that he may have just slept on his arm wrong and felt better when he took deep breaths.” His vital signs appeared normal, the report says, and it was determined McLaughlin would see a doctor later that morning.

At about 3:13 a.m., a correctional deputy noticed McLaughlin’s breathing was “not normal” and called medical staff, according to the examiner’s review of surveillance video. The deputy again checked on McLaughlin at 3:18 a.m. and found him unresponsive and not breathing. A nurse arrived and a defibrillator was used. After about 30 minutes of CPR, McLaughlin was pronounced dead at 3:54 a.m.

He had been in custody since his arrest on Jan. 23 on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. He was convicted and scheduled to be sentenced May 11 to 180 days in jail and probation. He had no serious criminal history prior to his arrest, court records show.

Following the death, Parkinson said that he welcomed the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office and the FBI to conduct their own investigations into the death of McLaughlin or any other jail inmate.

Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said Thursday that his office’s investigation into the matter was ongoing. An FBI representative could not be reached for comment.

IN-CUSTODY DEATHS, 2012-17

The following people died while in custody of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office since January 2012.

  • Jan. 5, 2012: Kevin Lee Strahl, 53. Cause: Hepatic failure, liver fatty change
  • Nov. 12, 2012: Joseph Morillo, 43. Cause: Cardiac arrest due to thickening of heart muscle and morbid obesity
  • Jan. 27, 2014: Rudy Silva. Died in hospital care. Cause: Acute hypoxic respiratory failure, septic shock, Influenza A and Staphylococcus Aureus Bacteremia
  • March 12, 2014: Josey Richard Meche, 28. Cause: Cardiac dysrhythmia with acute methamphetamine toxicity
  • May 30, 2014: Timothy Richard Jancowicz, 29. Cause: Respiratory arrest due to heroin toxicity
  • Jan. 11, 2015: David Thomas Osborn Sr., 63, Cause: Acute myocardial infarction, Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, hyperglycemia
  • March 24, 2015: Sean Michael Alexander, 33. Cause: Microscopic encephalitis, marked pulmonary edema
  • Sept. 20, 2016: Jordan Benjamin Turner, 36. Cause: Suicide with razor blade
  • July 16, 2016: Nicole Honait Luxor, 62. Died in hospital care. Cause: Complications from gallbladder cancer
  • Jan. 22, 2017: Andrew Chaylon Holland, 36. Intrapulmonary embolism
  • April 13, 2017: Kevin Lee McLaughlin, 60. Heart attack (preliminary)

Note: Unless otherwise stated, place of death was San Luis Obispo County Jail.

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