Did lack of oversight lead to jail deaths?

January 1, 2015
Sheriff Ian Parkinson

Sheriff Ian Parkinson


A San Luis Obispo County Jail inmate, who died from a heroin overdose, had not been seen by jail personnel for more than 10 hours when deputies became aware of his death, according to the coroner’s report.

Timothy Richard Janowicz was one of three inmates who died in the men’s jail in 2014. Inmates have access to drugs, hypodermic needles and other forms of contraband while deputies fail to follow procedures for cell checks.

In all three cases, sheriff’s department staff allegedly failed to either provide medical assistance or to check on inmates as required by department policy. Several former inmates and local attorneys contend conditions at the jail are so poor that multiple inmates have marred skin from the widespread incidences of staph infections and a lack of adequate medical care.

On Jan. 23, Josey Meche, 28, died from a drug overdose after flailing on a concrete cell floor for more than 20 minutes, according to the coroner’s report. Until he stopped moving, deputies offered him no assistance.

In March, Rudy Joseph Silva, 35, was discovered unconscious in his cell. He was transported to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center where he died of influenza and a staphylococcus infection four days later. Jail mates claim he was sick for several days with major coughing fits, but did not receive the medical care he pleaded for until he was no longer conscious.

Timothy Richard Janowicz

Timothy Richard Janowicz

On May 30, Janowicz, 29, was found dead in his cell. Several weeks later, the sheriff’s department sent out a press release saying that Janowicz died of a heroin overdose, but refused to release the June 24 autopsy report, in violation of the California Public Records Act.

On Dec. 18, following more than a half dozen records requests, the sheriff’s department released both the autopsy and coroner’s report which describe bruises, gashes and multiple needle marks on Janowicz’ body.

According to the coroner’s report, after six months in the county jail, Janowicz died from an accidental overdose of heroin injected with a hypodermic needle.

Jail personnel had not seen Janowicz from between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m, according to the coroner’s report. More than 10 hours later, at 5:45 a.m., deputies entered the eight man cell after hearing inmates yelling, “man down.”

“The last time the decedent was seen alive was at approximately 1900 to 1930 hours on 05-25-2014,” the coroner’s report says.

Nevertheless, Sheriff Public Information Officer Tony Cipolla said that deputies check on inmates every 30 minutes.

“Deputies enter housing units for direct observation at least once every thirty minutes,” Cipolla said in an email.

At 6:40 p.m., a deputy called for Janowicz asking him to participate in a clothing exchange. However, Janowicz did not respond and another inmate told the deputy Janowicz did not need any clothing, the report says.

After hearing inmates yelling, “man down,” deputies entering the cell and discovered Janowicz dead in his bed with a bloody contusion on the back of his head and a hematoma on his abdomen. Included in his possessions was a homemade billy club, a weapon generally used for protection.

Even though Janowicz had multiple needle marks on his left arm and one on his right arm, the deputies did not find any needles or drugs in the eight-man cell, according to the autopsy and coroner’s reports.

“Inmates sanitized their cell of any contraband then called, ‘Man down’ at which time correctional staff responded and discovered Janowicz deceased,” the coroner’s report says.

The report says, Janowicz’ cellmates found him slumped over on the cell bars at an undisclosed time. The inmates then moved Janowicz to their cell eating area where they splashed water on his face, but were unable to arouse Janowicz.

The inmates then carried Janowicz to his bunk so that he could “sleep it off.”

The coroner’s report does not mention how drugs and needles are getting into the hands of prisoners. In addition, sheriff coroner investigators determined the contusion on back of his head and the hematoma on his abdomen had nothing to do with his death.

Meanwhile, the inmate death rate at the men’s jail, with a population this summer of 551 prisoners, is more than three times the national average.

During the past year, three men died in the men’s jail or .54 percent of inmates, while the nation average is .13 percent, according to Federal Bureau of Justice statistics data.

Of the seven Los Angeles County Jails, the Twin Towers Jail had the highest percentage of inmate deaths in 2014, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In Los Angeles County, inmates suffering from severe mental illness or who have expressed suicidal thoughts are housed in the The Twin Towers facility.

With seven deaths in 2014 out of a population of 3,276 inmates, the Twin Towers Jail had a .19 percent death rate, which is less than half San Luis Obispo County Jail’s .54 percent per-capita death rate. Of the seven deaths at the Twin Towers, two were suicides and five were from natural causes.

Following several years of complaints that deputies at Los Angeles County Jails were neglecting, abusing and committing crimes against inmates, the FBI stepped in to investigate. After 18 of his sheriff deputies were charged with criminal mistreatment of inmates, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca stepped down in Jan. 2014.

If you have information about the conditions at the San Luis Obispo County Jail, please contact Karen Velie at (805) 234-1703.

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  1. Downtown Bob says:

    I worked in a jail larger than this one and let me help you understand a few things.

    first off, checks every thirty mins are physically impossible. There are nearly 550 people in tha jail and maybe 7-15 folks working. If you have someone in the control room, a couple in booking checking in and searching new committals, and someone assisting medical, leaves you with maybe 3 or 4 people to check on hundreds of people twice and hour. Do you really believe you can literally check on that many people? You can see them see they are sleeping in a bed, count them a few times per night, but you can’t check on every one of them every thirty mins. If his friends helped him to bed to sleep it off, he looked as if he was sleeping and none of you critics would have noticed anything wrong.

    As far as drugs coming in, I am pretty sure most of it is coming in secreted. With court appearances, doctor visits, state inmate visits, and other agency inmate transfers a lot of people come in and out the door, all have to be strip searched and possessions searched. We are talking a likely one hundred or more in and out per day. It would be easy to miss, and impossible to find in cases where they swallow contraband to retrieve later when in jail. Yes, people do that, purposely get arrested to make come cash or pay debts by bringing stuff IN. Plus you have the odd case of a crooked employee but fairly rare.

    Lastly, I left the job, not locally here but in another area, because of the germs, smell, working conditions, lack of support from our Sheriff, and general fact that I was living the life of an inmate one quarter of my life. Corrections is a thankless and depressing job. Many of the folks that do the job are in it only for the pay and they can’t earn that much cash else ware. They deserve a lot of respect because someone does have to do the work. Staffing is never enough and people cannot afford the real staffing level that would be needed. I think the security checks every thirty minutes is an impossibility and everyone knows it but still pretend that it is real because it is a federal guideline.

    (2) 6 Total Votes - 4 up - 2 down
  2. Niles Q says:

    I’m sorry about this poor man’s death and if the deputies truly neglected him when he needed help, then they ought to all be taken out and horse whipped.

    However, I do have a hard time feeling sorry for a guy who manages to somehow obtain, cook up and shoot enough heroin to overdose — ALL WHILE IN COUNTY JAIL!

    If there was ever a place in this world where one should never do drugs, I would suspect County Jail is at or near the top of the list.

    The Sheriff needs to absolutely investigate to make damn sure that none of his correctional deputies or non-sworn staffers are bringing this poison into the jail. And if he finds someone who is doing that, arrest and prosecute them fully.

    I bet ol’ Ian sh*t his pants when that guy OD’d in his jail.

    Would have loved to hear the ass-chewing the supervisor on duty got that day. Sheriff Ian needs to clean up his jailhouse and pronto.

    (5) 15 Total Votes - 10 up - 5 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      People who are addicted don’t prioritize the way most of the rest of us do, so the fact that they continue to seek drugs while locked up isn’t surprising. That it also leads to tragedy also isn’t surprising.

      It is a tragedy, nonetheless.

      I agree about the horse-whipping. Addicts are not disposable products.

      (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
  3. SamLouis says:

    At least Parkinson’s Navy is well funded and fully intact.

    (7) 19 Total Votes - 13 up - 6 down
    • SamLouis says:

      The SLO Sheriff’s Office Dodge Viper “patrol unit” is also a winner.

      (9) 21 Total Votes - 15 up - 6 down
    • obispan says:

      There is little that the Sheriff’s Dept. can do in the face of a huge heroin boom. Same thing happened in the 70’s. Parkinson’s Navy and Dodge viper are controllable costs. Can we ask for the same accountability by the junkies?

      (-2) 4 Total Votes - 1 up - 3 down
  4. standup says:

    Time to start questioning the job ole Parke is doing.

    (15) 25 Total Votes - 20 up - 5 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      Oh, the time to start questioning Parkinson was quite awhile back, in my opinion.

      (0) 6 Total Votes - 3 up - 3 down
  5. Lilylu says:

    This is terribly sad. There is a family who is grieving this man. Have we gotten so hard hearted that people can really post that because a man has an addiction he deserves to not get proper medical and mental health treatment while incarcerated? If jail staff is really so strapped as to be unable to do rounds and checks on a regular basis then there is a real problem there. And if that is the case Sheriff Parkinson is not managing the jail as it needs to be. Beside guards, there needs to be more staff available to check and do rounds, especially on those who have addiction, substance abuse and mental health problems. The jails in California hire Psych Techs to do care and the SLO County jail is not an exception. What is needed are more staff such as Psych Techs and LVN’s who are trained and licensed to give care to these inmates. Yet the Inpatient Psychiatric Health Facility and County jail are short staffed and there are people out there with these kinds of training and licenses that have to move out of the area to get jobs. Why?

    (13) 27 Total Votes - 20 up - 7 down
    • CentralcoastRN says:

      They have a hard time recruiting nurses to work for the County. The County pays its nurses about $15-20 an hour less than private hospitals, CMC, Atascadero State Hospital. Anytime
      a County employee (and the jail nurses ARE County employees) asks for a raise, the
      Public shouts their “lazy government worker” battlecry and out come the tar and feathers.
      From what I have heard in the Central Coast Nursing Community, there has been a problem
      with retention. I cannot speak of other staff positions at the jail.

      SLO County IS a lovely place to live. Of that there is no doubt. However, there must be a
      wage to support the cost. No competitive pay, no staff.

      In addition, the jail has more inmates than normal due to all these new prison/jail laws.

      I am truly sorry for the loss of life.

      (14) 18 Total Votes - 16 up - 2 down
      • Lilylu says:

        What you have said is absolutely true. The starting pay the county pays Psych Techs is much less than the State Hospitals, and they don’t often have positions available that are full-time with benefits. The work load of the psych techs at county jail is brutal and I know many who have moved on and moved away from their beloved central coast in order to make a decent wage and have a manageable work load. RN’s and Psych Techs and LVN’s are a much needed addition to the staff of jail guards at County jail. Many of the inmates have mental illnesses and substance abuse that must be addressed and treated with medications, group therapy, etc. Are we really such a hardened society that we can say these people who are the throwaways of society don’t have a right to care and treatment? Many people with mental illnesses have ‘self medicated’ themselves with illegal substances in order to try and live with the symptoms of their illnesses. They did not ask for their schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or depression anymore than someone asks for cancer. They need compassion and treatment, not condemnation, and certainly not outright callous disregard by jail guards who see them as just another low life inmate. So many people who are Christian, and love their families and live good lives still see people with mental illnesses and addictions as expendable. Love your neighbor as yourself and Love one another as I have loved you don’t seem to apply. Why? If you see yourself in this post please tell me why.

        (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
  6. willnose says:

    Based on this report, I would anticipate a lawsuit, an “Out-of-court” settlement right before trial date. Most juries would pay on negligence alone.

    A trial will bring forth calls for a Grand Jury, state, federal investigation into why this has risen to a statistical anomaly. Start with why no officer made the rounds for 10 hours. Either someone has, or didn’t, an inmate is dead, evidence is missing.

    Check log, put staff under oath, interview, do same with inmates. Otherwise, big money over wrongful death gets shelled out sooner than later; with this juror for sure!

    “How did drug, needle paraphernalia get inside the jail???”
    Been reading almost weekly about drug-tests performed on inmates by some department – and inmates test positive!! Aren’t they looked up day / night…??

    Clearly evident – drugs are smuggled in, not necessarily by visitors. Tighten up visitation privileges, better supervision.

    Might correctional personnel / officers need better screening when going on/off duty? Subject to random search, frequent drug-tests?

    Cameras are present on intersections in towns, shops, etc. Why not in jail, cell hallways, etc? Litigation is the most expensive, punitive way to force change(s) to an institution apparently prone to neglect of wards and duties.

    Health issues are only the proverbial tip of the problem. Sounds like a culture of systemic failures on several levels. Rather obvious after reading this article.

    No, the prisoners are not model citizens; however, this is not acceptable. The ultimate price is someone’s relative, sibling, family member, loved one, dying. One is too many already.

    Could be anyone, is someone…!

    (5) 17 Total Votes - 11 up - 6 down
    • willieslo says:

      What a wonderful “OPPORTUNITY” to get more revenue, equipment and overtime when the existing personnel can do “ALL” of what you recommended if they put their “A” to it!
      It can be done!
      If Parkinson (The Boss) orders it, they will mustard up a way to get it done!

      (0) 10 Total Votes - 5 up - 5 down

Comments are closed.