Chain a dog to a post, leave it to die without shade or water — you’ll be arrested.
Strap a man to a chair for 46 hours, force him to sit immobile in his waste while he dies — you’ll be excused.
Hear a man complain he’s having a heart attack, ignore him until he dies an hour later — you’ll be absolved.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson and his jail staff can rest easy. No local officials have targeted them for recrimination. They won’t be held to account, much less prosecuted, for these ghastly deaths plus nine others at County Jail in the last five years—not yet anyway.
Rather, they’ve been afforded cover by a reflexively self-protecting county bureaucracy, which will indemnify them with a $5 million payout to avoid litigation.
They’re also the beneficiaries of an official press release in which the county self-servingly asserts no one — not a single person — is culpable in the death of 36-year-old Andrew Holland, that it’s the system’s fault.
County officialdom has yet to speak publicly about another jailhouse death – that of 60-year-old heart attack victim Kevin McLaughlin. Should we assume another payout is forthcoming, that again no one is responsible, that again “the system” is to blame?
Of course all these deaths can’t be the fault of people entrusted with the lives and liberty of hundreds of human beings inhabiting County Jail. Inmates are the bottom of society’s trash heap, tossed into the joint for crimes, mental illness, addiction, whatever.
If they weren’t lowlifes, they wouldn’t be there. Right? They probably can’t even make bail or afford lawyers to buy reasonable doubt. They deserve what they get. Right?
The sheriff and his jailers are busy. They can’t be expected to keep everyone in their custody alive. That’s asking a lot. Stuff happens.
Don’t blame Parkinson — who asked voters in 2010 for SLO County’s top law enforcement job — or the people he’s hired to oversee County Jail. That’s what they and their guardians at the county say: You can’t blame them. You can’t blame anyone.
So when you or someone you know dies in County Jail, be aware it’s no one’s fault but your own. You shouldn’t have put yourself in the position of being a lowlife.
We may as well put a plaque over the jailhouse door proclaiming: “Enter At Your Own Risk.”
No one’s yet been assigned or accepted personal responsibility for these latest deaths. No one has offered to publicly identify exactly who made the decisions that resulted in the deaths of these two men.
Obtuse, non-specific explanations, excuses and victim blaming we’ve got. Answers and accountability we don’t.
The county refuses to release jailhouse video of Holland’s shameful treatment. The people on that tape are known, as is the fact that Holland and McLaughlin didn’t kill themselves.
The county can bob and weave all it wants, but now – true or not – there’s stink of cover up. That video will come out eventually. Release it now and get it over with.
Someone is responsible. A crowded jail isn’t. An overrun mental health system isn’t. Lack of enough funding isn’t.
Individual decision makers are. Who are they? Why haven’t they been publicly identified and held answerable?
If there’s any justice to be had from “the system,” voters can exact it come Election Day 2018. Parkinson wanted the job. Now he owns it and the deaths of 11 people over the last five years on his watch.
If Parkinson doesn’t resign over this — which he should, now — he’ll answer to voters.
Same goes for first-term District Attorney Dan Dow. Heaven forbid opening a criminal investigation into his own kind. Better to punt to the FBI. Let them handle it — no local feathers ruffled, no political relationships strained, no risk.
Now comes another accusation of abuse at the jail by another troubled man, Jeremiah Mobley, 39. Hauled in under an involuntary psychiatric “5150” hold, Mobley claims he was never booked but held for days in debilitating isolation with no treatment for his psychiatric condition or physical injuries.
The county will deny it. “The system” always denies accusations of wrongdoing, negligence and outright incompetence at the jail. What will the payout be this time?
The county’s toothless Grand Jury has called for a “joint review” of jail practices — no “investigation,” merely a pathetic glance in the “the system’s” search for more bureaucratic excuses.
Mistreat a dog, get arrested. Stand by while someone dies in jail, get off scot free.
Justice the SLO County way is justice denied.
Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.