“We absolutely have some responsibility in the loss of Andrew Holland. Never question that we have responsibility.”
That was Sheriff Ian Parkinson last August, when he spoke to the county Board of Supervisors about “lessons learned” from the death of Andrew Holland, the mentally ill inmate who died in County Jail after he was forced to spend 46 hours in a restraint chair.
Parkinson went on to acknowledge that “we should have looked at forcing alternatives and demanded help (with Holland), which we did not.”
But that was then. This is now, and Parkinson has gone on the offensive.
In a statement issued Saturday afternoon — the day after The Tribune released a disturbing video taken over Holland’s last two days —Parkinson not only failed to accept any responsibility, he also blamed Holland's death on the county Mental Health Department.
In the statement posted on Facebook, Parkinson wrote that the Sheriff’s Office attempted to transfer Holland to the County Mental Health facility, but the staff there claimed it had no capacity and “refused to accept” Holland.
Parkinson added that “it was later determined that their claim (of lack of capacity) was untrue.”
Parkinson had all the subtlety of a snarling guard dog defending his territory.
But wait! The sheriff is now saying he did not attempt to deflect blame: "There are no excuses or shifting of blame possible. We have responsibility, and that cannot be denied. We sent out a statement to clarify what happened, not to deflect blame over this tragedy, just to try and tell the details and the whole story," he said in yet another statement issued on Tuesday.
Please, Sheriff Parkinson, can you deliver one consistent, accurate and honest message?
You could start by holding a press conference, rather than speaking in statements issued by your public information officer. And how about a town hall meeting? Because many people have a lot of unanswered questions.
For the record, we agree Mental Health was culpable. And if any medical or mental health professionals authorized keeping Holland in the restraint chair for 46 hours, at the very least they should be no longer be practicing medicine.
But that in no way absolves Parkinson and the deputies who had a direct role in this, and we’re dumbfounded the sheriff and his backers could be blind to that.
Are they so intent on securing Parkinson’s re-election in June that they will say anything to make it appear the sheriff and the custodial staff acted properly?
Do they believe voters will fail to see the callous way deputies stood by and watched as Holland lay dying … and the outrageous smirk on one deputy’s face during the failed resuscitation efforts?
It’s especially galling for Parkinson to now say the Sheriff’s Office had “no alternative other than to place Mr. Holland in restraints.”
For starters, Sheriff Parkinson, tell it like it was. It was a restraint CHAIR that already had been implicated in a string of deaths and lawsuits in other states when Holland died.
Yet Parkinson now defends strapping Holland into the chair for 46 hours by saying “the rules” were followed: “Any claims that the rules about use of restraints were not followed by the Sheriff’s Office, are completely false,” he said on Facebook.
What “rules” were those? And who wrote them? If that’s a reference to the county policy in place at the time, that was so vague that it might as well not have existed at all.
The policy did require staff to conduct "range of motion" exercises, to monitor the health of the inmate and to periodically offer food and water, but failed to limit the length of time an inmate could spend in the chair.
Instead, it directed that the device be used “no longer than is reasonably necessary.”
We see how loosely the policy was interpreted; apparently, 46 hours was deemed to be “reasonably necessary.”
Deputies removed Holland from the chair only “after he voluntarily had taken medication and agreed to cooperate and not harm himself. This was the first time he had agreed not to hurt himself,” Parkinson told the Board of Supervisors.
If he had not “agreed to cooperate” would he have been kept in the chair even longer than 46 hours?
Parkinson admitted the policy was faulty when he spoke to the board last year: "We should have recognized the need for our policy to restrict the limit time that an inmate is placed in restraints and not allow this retention without getting up."
Parkinson also pointed out that the the correctional staff at the County Jail is not trained in medicine and should not be held responsible for monitoring the health and well-being of inmates.
We agree, but it doesn't require medical knowledge to recognize that being held in the same position for nearly two days, without even being allowed to use the bathroom, is dangerous and cruel treatment.
We believe, as do many others in the community, that those responsible for Holland's death should still be held accountable, especially since the evidence of the video so clearly demonstrates the inhumane way he was treated.
And no, a $5 million settlement to the Holland family does not absolve those responsible.
Should the District Attorney's Office investigate possible criminal wrongdoing?
Absolutely. It's ludicrous to believe the Sheriff's Office could conduct an impartial investigation of this matter, and who knows how long we'll have to wait for the FBI to conclude its civil rights investigation of the County Jail.
No matter how Dow, Parkinson and their supporters try to spin it, what happened to Andrew Holland was wrong, and it may be criminal.
Dodging responsibility for Holland's death — and failing to answer questions about the tragedy and its aftermath — only makes it worse.