Editorials

‘Pay-to-stay’ jails should be outlawed — SLO building inspector’s bar attack proves why

Sgt. Steven Bowles gives a tour on Nov. 29, 2016, where pay-to-stay program inmates can watch television, socialize and play games at the Seal Beach Detention Center.
Sgt. Steven Bowles gives a tour on Nov. 29, 2016, where pay-to-stay program inmates can watch television, socialize and play games at the Seal Beach Detention Center. Los AngelesTimes/TNS

Christopher Olcott — the disgraced SLO city employee who cold-cocked a woman at an Avila Beach bar — just caught another break.

A judge agreed Thursday that Olcott should be allowed to serve his time at a “pay-to-stay” jail in Seal Beach.

The request already had been approved by Sheriff Ian Parkinson, over the objections of the District Attorney’s Office and the victims.

The Seal Beach Detention Center doesn’t offer luxury digs — there are no Tempur-Pedic bunks, jacuzzi tubs or gourmet meals. Fees range from $120 per day for regular custody to $170 per day for the weekend furlough program that allows inmates to serve their time in three-day increments.

The jail is small — only 30 beds — and is such a step up from some county jails that it once was described as “paradise” by an inmate who spoke with The Los Angeles Times.

“I’m really happy I was able to come here,” the inmate said in the 2017 interview. “But you need the money to do it.”

Exactly. And that’s what makes the system so rotten.

What “pay-to-stay” jails offer is an added measure of safety and security, which is exactly why Olcott sought the refuge of a Seal Beach cell.

Death threats

His attorney said he’s received multiple death threats and would be at risk at the San Luis Obispo Jail.

That’s concerning, but Olcott can’t be the first person to be threatened in the history of the San Luis Obispo Jail.

Surely, the jail has dealt with similar situations in the past.

Olcott, Chris_.JPG
SLO city employee Chris Olcott entered a guilty plea to assaulting a woman at Mr. Rick’s Bar in 2016. This is his SLO city employment photo. City of San Luis Obispo

If not — or if can’t cannot guarantee the safety of all inmates — that’s a huge problem that must be addressed. And “pay-to-stay” isn’t the way to do it.

Exporting local inmates to other more cozy lockups simply because they have the means to pay their way out of their local jail only reinforces that we have separate systems of justice here.

Local officials should have integrity to recognize that, rather than pretending that it doesn’t really matter where inmates do their time.

It does matter, or inmates wouldn’t go to the trouble and expense of paying to stay at the jails of their choice.

Ideally, California would do away with this inequitable practice altogether.

At the very least, San Luis Obispo County should refuse to go along with it, though if the Olcott case is any example, that’s not likely to happen.

It’s especially galling that Olcott is taking advantage of this method of gaming the system, given all that’s transpired in this case.

Evidence of guilt

It’s especially galling that Olcott is taking advantage of this method of gaming the system, given all that’s transpired in this case.

First, a jury failed to reach a verdict on felony charges, even though surveillance video clearly shows he not only elbowed a woman into unconsciousness, he then repeatedly punched her companion.

Security camera video captures the moment when an angry bar patron cold-cocked a woman and then punched her friend multiple times during a 2016 incident at Mr. Rick’s in Avila Beach, California.

Then the District Attorney’s Office agreed to allow Olcott to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. That earned him a sentence of only 60 days, and he’ll only have to serve half of that.

On top of it all, he’s now on paid administrative leave from his $68,000-a-year job as a building inspector while the city conducts its own investigation, which could end in disciplinary action.

Olcott has been collecting paychecks since April 16, and there’s no telling when the city will finish its investigation — or whether it will conclude it has the right to fire him.

It’s already been reported that the city must find a “nexus” between off-duty behavior and the employee’s ability to do the job effectively.

How frustrating.

Anyone viewing the infamous videotape of the incident can tell Olcott has anger-management issues, and that’s bound to make people uncomfortable.

But don’t be surprised if the city decides it doesn’t have legal grounds to fire him — or that it doesn’t want to risk the threat of a protracted legal battle.

That happened in 2013, when the city terminated a fire engineer/paramedic who was in a bar fight that left the victim with 17 facial fractures.

The employee appealed the termination and to avoid a long, expensive court fight, the city agreed to rehire him, albeit at a lower-ranking position that paid much less.

It was not a popular decision.

Aaron Gomez, who is now a city councilman, was among those who protested the rehiring.

“He was an EMT who left the scene of a very violent offense and later admitted to it,” Gomez said then. “He does not represent the integrity that the city is supposed to (have).”

The same can be said of Olcott.

Allowing him to return to his job, as if nothing happened, would be hard to stomach.

If the city doesn’t fire him, at the very least it should reassign him to a position that has no public contact.

And it should announce its conclusion soon, because this has dragged on long enough, with taxpayers footing the bill for Olcott’s salary.

We urge the city to have an answer by the time Olcott is released from the safety and security of the Seal Beach Detention Center.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

  Comments