Ian Parkinson on Election Day: Mental health solutions 'more important than any campaign'
This story was updated at 12:20 a.m.
Ian Parkinson overcame doubts about his ability to lead the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office with a convincing victory Tuesday night over challenger Greg Clayton.
With all precincts reporting, Parkinson finished with 61.5 percent to Clayton's 38.4 percent, with the sheriff's constituents showing they haven't lost confidence in him to serve a third term.
The race won't officially be called until all mail-in ballots are counted in the coming days.
Parkinson has faced heavy criticism in recent months for his oversight of the San Luis Obispo County Jail system, where 12 inmates have died since 2012 — including 36-year-old schizophrenic man Andrew Holland, who was strapped to a restraint chair for 46 hours before his death.
Those in attendance at Parkinson's election-night party at SLO Brew in downtown San Luis Obispo erupted in cheers as the sheriff greeted his numerous supporters, hugging many in extended embraces, showing visible signs of relief.
"It’s been hard," he said after the first results were released. "This has been a difficult year for me, my staff and my family. There is relief that I have people in the community who have supported me, and I know I have work to do for those who don’t."
The race was one of the county's most expensive. Together, both candidates raised more than $555,000 in campaign contributions, with Parkinson receiving at least $336,000 and Clayton at least $219,000, including both monetary and non-monetary contributions.
It was also the county's most high-profile political race in the June primary election, Clayton levied attacks on Parkinson's leadership, saying that he would bring "transparency and accountability to the office."
Clayton, a private investigator who worked as a San Luis Obispo Police Department officer for 13 years, accused Parkinson of a cover-up following Holland's death in jail custody in January 2017.
"We have issues with the mentally ill. I have been an ardent supporter for the mentally ill. It’s a challenge and a very important one," Parkinson said at his party. "Solving this problem for our county, to improve it to the best of my ability, is more important than anything.
"I still believe that today. Seeing the support and results thus far makes me believe people know me and trust me, and they know I’m going to do what I'm going to say I'm going to do."
At the Holland Ranch in Edna Valley, Clayton mingled through a crowd of roughly 100 supporters, sharing hugs with many in attendance, including members of Andrew Holland's family.
After the initial results showed his deficit, Clayton told The Tribune that his goal from the start of his campaign four months ago was to "carry the narrative" about mistreatment of the mentally ill at County Jail. He said he was surprised by the amount of support his campaign received.
"I promised myself I would take this on, and if we fell short, we fell short," Clayton said. "What's important is we started a dialogue in this county."
He said that taking a chance and challenging a popular sheriff strained many of his personal and professional relationships. Still, he said, given video of Holland's death at the jail and other information about his treatment that has come out since, he feels he made the right call.
"It bothers me deeply that people can see that video and turn a blind eye and not see through the false promises they're being told," Clayton said. "We'll move on and wait and see what the FBI has to say."
Carty Holland, Andrew's father, said shortly before the first results came out that he felt the family accomplished much of what it wanted in supporting the challenger.
"I am so proud of Greg Clayton and everything he's done, but for us, it's always been an issue of bringing (to light) the plight of the mentally ill and how they treated," Carty Holland said. "Win or lose, this is a win for us because the level and the intensity of awareness has risen."
He added: "If it's Parkinson, we're not going away. We're still going to be here, and we're still going to be fighting for change."