Special Reports

These 12 people died in SLO County Jail custody since 2012

A dozen inmates have died at San Luis Obispo County Jail since 2012.
A dozen inmates have died at San Luis Obispo County Jail since 2012. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Before the death of Atascadero resident Andrew Holland following 46 hours in a restraint chair in San Luis Obispo County Jail, nine other people had died in custody of the Sheriff's Office since 2012.

There have since been two more inmate deaths, leading some to call for Sheriff Ian Parkinson's resignation and the FBI to launch a civil rights investigation.

Some of the inmates died from pre-existing medical conditions, some from drug overdoses, two died in a hospital after becoming ill, and one committed suicide, according to the Coroner's Office.

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Here are their stories.

Kevin Lee Strahl

Kevin Lee Strahl, 53, died in the County Jail Jan. 5, 2012, after being found unresponsive in his cell, according to the Sheriff's Office. Strahl, who the Sheriff's Office said was a transient, was in custody for failing to register as a sex offender. Jail medical personnel tried to revive him through CPR and a defibrillator before he was taken to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The Coroner's Office ruled his cause of death as hepatic failure and liver fatty change, and ruled the death natural.

Joseph Morillo

Joseph Morillo, 43, died in County Jail Nov. 12, 2012, after the Sheriff's Office said he was found unconscious in a lone safety cell with no furniture and just a hole in the floor for waste, designed for inmates who are a danger to themselves and others. A coroner's report says Morillo was a transient awaiting sentencing for a conviction for making criminal threats following his arrest in September. According to the report, Morillo was considered an "officer safety" inmate requiring a "full restraint move" due to "assaultive/unpredictable behavior."

The coroner determined the cause of death was cardiac arrest due to thickening of the heart muscle and morbid obesity, and ruled Morillo's death natural.

Rudy Silva

Rudy Silva, 35, died Jan. 27, 2014, in a San Luis Obispo hospital after falling ill at the jail, where he had been housed since October 2013 for various misdemeanor and felony cases stemming from alleged crimes in San Luis Obispo. On Jan. 23, 2014, Silva submitted a request for medical attention saying he was having difficulty breathing due to a swollen airway and chest and sinus congestion. He was transferred to the hospital's intensive care unit, where he remained until his death.

A medical examiner determined Silva died from H1N1 flu virus, the first confirmed death in San Luis Obispo County from the virus, which had killed 147 people statewide that flu season at the time of Silva's death. The coroner's office ruled Silva's death as natural, caused by acute hypoxic respiratory failure, septic shock, and influenza A and staphylococcuc aureaus bacteremia.

Josey Richard Meche

Josey Richard Meche, 28, of San Luis Obispo, was arrested by the San Luis Obispo Police Department on March 11, 2014, after two city residents found Meche standing in their front yard holding a stick. He became combative, according to SLOPD, and was placed in a "control hold" before being booked in jail on suspicion of resisting arrest. Meche was reportedly calm during his booking and was left in a holding cell, where deputies found him unresponsive early the next morning, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The Coroner's Office ruled his death an "accident," caused by cardiac dysrhythmia due to acute methamphetamine toxicity. Other factors included hyperthermia and fatty infiltration of the right ventrical wall.

Nine days before Meche's death, a federal judge dismissed a $1.5 million excessive force lawsuit Meche had filed against SLOPD over a similar incident the previous year, in which Meche was arrested for allegedly throwing a rock at a vehicle. He said in the lawsuit that officers pressed his face to the asphalt and dragged him approximately 18 inches, causing road rash to his face, a laceration to his wrist, upper body pain, post-traumatic stress and “other mental illnesses.”

Timothy Richard Jancowicz

Timothy Richard Jancowicz, 29, died of a reported heroin overdose in the County Jail on May 30, 2014. According to a coroner's report, inmates in Jancowicz's dorm-style housing unit alerted deputies of a "man down" at about 6:15 a.m. Jancowicz was found by deputies in his bed, and a jail nurse declared him deceased. A small recent needle mark was documented on his left arm.

A Sheriff's Office investigation found that inmates on Jancowicz's unit had found him slumped against the bars in his cell and were going to take him to the shower to awaken him, but instead put him in his bed to "sleep it off." Officials believe he died sometime in the early morning hours. He had been booked in the jail in November 2013 on suspicion of drug-related offenses. The coroner ruled his death an accident, caused by respiratory arrest due to acute heroin toxicity.

David Thomas Osborn Sr.

On Jan. 11, 2015, Morro Bay resident and local baker and gas station attendant, David Thomas Osborn Sr., 63, died in County Jail after being arrested and booked into the facility twice the same day for allegedly being drunk in public. After his first release on Jan. 10, he was arrested several hours later and returned to the jail after being medically cleared at a local hospital. Osborne Sr. was placed in a holding cell in the main intake area, where he was twice seen by jail medical staff for complaints of a blood sugar imbalance, according to the Sheriff's Office. After being escorted to the jail medical facility, he reportedly collapsed while waiting on a bench outside the office, and lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at a hospital, and the Coroner's Office ultimately ruled his death natural, caused by acute myocardial infarction, atherosclerotic coronary artery disease and hyperglycemia.

After his death, a Tribune investigation revealed that Osborne's son, David Thomas Osborne Jr., also died in the jail in 2001, nearly 14 years to the day. Osborne Jr., 30, of Atascadero, was in custody for a suspected DUI when he was discovered by jail staff hanging from a noose fashioned from jail-issued clothes and wrapped around the cell’s steel bars, according to archives. His death resulted in a $30,000 settlement for the family after they claimed to have warned officials that Osborn Jr. was suicidal.

Sean Michael Alexander, 23, of Pismo Beach, died in County Jail March 24, 2015, after being found in his solitary cell kneeling in a praying position over his bed. SLO County Sheriff

Sean Michael Alexander

Sean Michael Alexander, 33, of Pismo Beach, died in the jail March 24, 2015, after several arrests and interactions with County Mental Health. In September 2013, San Luis Obispo police officers executed a search warrant at Alexander’s home and discovered a cache of weapons including a loaded pistol grip shotgun, a loaded rifle, several hundred rounds of ammunition and bandoliers loaded with shotgun shells, according to police. Alexander was not arrested, but the items were removed from the home in the interest of public safety. Later that month, police were called to County Mental Health Services to a report of a disturbance and found Alexander had stolen a ring off the finger of a staff member there and swallowed it. He was later convicted of theft.

In March 2015, Alexander had been in County Jail for six days on a probation violation after allegedly being under the influence of a controlled substance when he began flooding his single-person cell by clogging the toilet. Jail staff shut off water to his toilet but left the sink functional. The next day, he was found unresponsive, kneeling over his bed in a praying position and not breathing, according to a coroner's report. A pool of water was found on his bed where Alexander's face was laying. During CPR efforts, Alexander continually vomited water. Despite that, the coroner ruled Alexander's death natural, caused by a microscopic encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, the cause of which the Coroner's Office was unable to determine.

His parents later told investigators that Alexander was diagnosed with a redacted mental illness at age 7, which became "unmanageable" by high school, the report states. At the time of his death, Alexander was on a waiting list for acceptance to Cal Poly.

Jordan Benjamin Turner

Jordan Benjamin Turner, 36, of Paso Robles, reportedly committed suicide with a blade from a jail-issued safety razor on Sept. 20, 2016. Turner had been arrested by the Morro Bay Police Department four days earlier on suspicion of a variety of charges, including evading officers in a motor vehicle, when he crashed into another vehicle, sustaining moderate injuries. On the night of Sept. 19, Turner asked for a safety razor to prepare for a court appearance the next day. Early the next morning, a deputy noticed him sleeping in an awkward position on his bunk and checked on him, finding him unresponsive with a pool of blood at this left side, according to the coroner's report. After CPR efforts failed, investigators found the broken blade in Turner's shirt pocket.

His death was ruled a suicide, with death caused by exsanguination and sharp force trauma to his arm.

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Alleged murderer Nicole Honait Luxor, 62, died July 16, 2016, in hospital care after succumbing to gall bladder cancer. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Nicole Honait Luxor

Nicole Honait Luxor, 62, of Paso Robles, died July 16, 2016, in hospital care after succumbing to gall bladder cancer. Luxor was involved in a shootout with Paso Robles police officers and sheriff's deputies on Nov. 1, 2015, at her Dancing Horses Ranch in rural Paso Robles. After firing at several officers, Luxor was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder for allegedly killing Benjamin Terra, a ranch hand who managed her marijuana growing operation. According to records provided by the San Luis Obispo District Attorney's Office, Luxor, a self-described clairvoyant, was known to experience severe mental health emergencies and had a serious drug and alcohol addiction.

Luxor died before a preliminary hearing was held in her criminal case, and her motive for allegedly killing Terra is not known. According to her attorney, David Vogel, Luxor attempted to leave thousands of dollars of her estate to a correctional deputy she had taken a liking to. That gift was not accepted, according to Vogel.

Andrew Chaylon Holland, 36, of Atascadero, died of an embolism Jan. 22, 2017, after being held by jail staff for nearly two days in a plastic restraint chair. Courtesy photo

Andrew Chaylon Holland

On Jan. 22, 2017, Atascadero resident Andrew Chaylon Holland, 36, died of a pulmonary embolism in his lung after being held in a plastic restraint chair for nearly 46 hours. Holland, who had suffered from schizophrenia since his late teens, had a long history of arrests in San Luis Obispo County for low-level crimes such as public intoxication and resisting arrest. He was last arrested in September 2015 and held in County Jail — much of it spent in a solitary cell, according to his family — despite his family and the court trying to have Holland accepted into psychiatric treatment.

On Jan. 10, 2017, Holland was ordered by a judge to be transferred to the county psychiatric facility. Despite that, Holland spent 10 more days in a jail solitary cell, where he began to hit himself on Jan. 20. The Sheriff's Office says he was placed in the full-body restraint chair for his own safety. Two days later, Holland collapsed shortly after being let out of the chair. Lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful, and a coroner's report listed his death as natural, the result of a blood clot that formed in his leg and traveled to his lung, suffocating him.

The Sheriff's Ofice released a statement saying that Holland was found in his cell unconscious and that he was under the constant care of a physician, statements proven false by the release of jail video of his death by The Tribune. The video led to calls for Sheriff Ian Parkinson to resign. Holland's family received a $5 million settlement from the county in July, and the county promises to implement major reforms to improve mental health treatment for jail inmates. They also reportedly destroyed the chair and have banned their use.

Kevin Lee McLaughlin

Kevin Lee McLaughlin, 60, of San Luis Obispo, died in County Jail April 13, 2017, of a heart attack about two hours after being sent back to bed after complaining to jail staff of shoulder pain and numbness. McLaughlin was in custody for an alleged assault on his mother following a reportedly mental health crisis the same day as his brother's death.

In the early morning hours of April 13, McLaughlin told jail staff he felt "clammy" and said he wanted to go to the hospital. However, he also said that he might have slept on his side wrong, and returned to his single person cell. A deputy found him unresponsive about two hours later and CPR and AED failed to revive him. The Coroner's Office ruled McLaughlin's death natural, caused by cardiac arrhythmia due to acute and chronic heart disease.

Due to the high number of County Jail inmate deaths, Sheriff Parkinson said at a news conference that he welcomed an outside investigation by the District Attorney's Office and the FBI into any jail death the agencies saw fit. While the DA's Office found no criminal wrongdoing in McLaughlin's death, SLO County DA Dan Dow declined to investigate any other death. An FBI civil rights investigation remains ongoing.

HAMMER, RUSSELL A00683648.jpg
Russell Alan Hammer, 62, of Hanford, reportedly died in a wheelchair of an embolism while being transferred to the jail's medical facility after complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. SLO County Sheriff's Office

Russell Alan Hammer

On Nov. 27, 2017, inmate Russell Alan Hammer, 62, reportedly died in a wheelchair while being brought to the jail's medical facility. Hammer, of Hanford, was arrested Nov. 8 after allegedly stabbing his wife with a knife in Morro Bay. Court records show he was awaiting evaluation by court-ordered psychiatrists at the time of his death. On Nov. 27, Hammer complained to jail staff of chest pain and shortness of breath.

According to a coroner's report, he became unresponsive while being wheeled from his single-person cell to the jail medical facility, and could not be revived. The Coroner's Office ruled his death natural, caused by pulmonary thrombo-embolism and deep vein thrombosis.

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Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @mattfountain1