Angry county jail staffers blast Tribune’s fake news story
April 20, 2017
San Luis Obispo County Jail employees, many of whom for years have complained about neglect and abuse at the jail, are calling the Tribune’s latest story on the county jail “fake news.” The whistleblowers say the Tribune appears to be repeating false information put out by the county that supports the county’s claims that it provides adequate treatment of inmates.
For more than two years, CalCoastNews has investigated and reported on allegations of abuse and neglect at the county jail. County employees who say the treatment of inmates at the jail is deplorable have provided CalCoastNews with information and documentation of neglect and abuse.
The employees have asked that their names are not disclosed to the county because they fear retaliation. Jail officials have warned employees of the consequences of speaking to CalCoastNews and have gone so far as to ask employees to surrender their cell phones so they can be searched for phone calls and texts to the news site.
CalCoastNews has reported on the deaths of Andrew Holland and other inmates at the jail. In Holland’s case, CalCoastNews reported that Holland was held immobile, strapped into a device known as the “Devil Chair” for more than 36 hours without even being released to go to the bathroom. Jail staff violated county rules that require that an inmate’s arms and legs be moved every two hours to prevent blood clots.
Holland died because of blood clots that caused a pulmonary embolism, his autopsy revealed.
County jail staff contacted CalCoastNews saying the Tribune’s reporting on Holland’s death was wrong. The Tribune’s original story supported the county’s claim that Holland died without any signs of trauma and that no wrongdoing had occurred.
CalCoastNews reported that county jail procedures and policies require that a qualified medical professional physically check on an inmate held in a restraint chair within six hours while state regulations require a medical check within four hours. However, according to Holland’s chart, while Dr. Daisy Illano spoke with jail staff over the phone, she did not personally examine Holland.
The Tribune’s article, “Amid criticism over inmate deaths, SLO County Jail to hire nurse practitioner, doctor” prompted county staffers to contact CalCoastNews calling the story fake news. For more than five years, the county health agency has failed to properly staff the jail, they said.
The county has regularly advertised for new health workers. But because of low pay and poor working conditions, employees are difficult to retain, county sources said.
In 2016, 35 people who worked for the health department at the county jail left their jobs. Two of the nurses on duty when Holland was first strapped in the chair on the evening of Jan. 20, have since left the county.
In its latest article, the Tribune reports that the “jail’s medical care clinic is currently staffed by two supervising nurses, 19 nurses and seven licensed psychiatric technicians, as well as contract doctors and nurse practitioners.”
But, the county currently employs only one supervising nurse, one nurse practitioner and seven full-time equivalent nurses to work at the county jail, county sources said. It appears the county is including a list of nurses the county has used in the past who work for a temp agency, some of whom have not worked at the jail in five months.
In June, then supervising nurse Susan Cameron allegedly distracted her coworkers with a cake before stealing an inmate’s prescription methadone. A security camera caught Cameron stealing and taking the opioid, according to court records. Cameron later overdosed on the methadone and lost her job.
Cameron has not worked as a supervisor at the county jail since June 2016. Even though the district attorney’s office charged Cameron with petty theft, being under the influence and possession of a controlled substance, the Tribune never reported on the incident.
About two years ago, several county health department staffers filed complaints with the county’s whistleblower hotline regarding Cameron’s intoxication while working and problems with understaffing, according to James Erb, the county auditor controller who oversees the whistleblower program. CalCoastNews reported on the allegations, the Tribune did not.
On March 9, 2016, the county medical examiner was involved in a hit and run in the early morning while on his way to perform an autopsy, according to a police report. Officers then transported Dr. Gary Walter to French Hospital Medical Center for a blood test that showed an alcohol concentration of .19.
After CalCoastNews reported last week that the California Attorney General’s Office is seeking to revoke or suspend Walter’s medical license, the Tribune for the first time reported on the driving under the influence charge.
However, the Tribune left the information about the hit and run out of its story. In addition, while the Tribune noted that Walter had a handheld breathalyzer test of .155, the newspaper failed to inform the readers that the official blood test showed a blood alcohol count of .19.
For more than eight years, the Tribune has trailed CalCoastNews. After CalCoastNews conducts in-depth investigations and reports stories, Tribune reporters regularly lodge requests for the same document, call sources named by CalCoastNews and then publish similar articles. The Tribune claims the work as their original investigative reporting, and then enters the articles in journalism awards competitions.
In Feb. 2009, CalCoastNews published an article about Dancing Star, a sanctuary that had become a killing field for protected animals. The Tribune later produced a similar article using the same sources and information.
The Tribune then entered a California Newspaper Publishers Association press competition for original investigative reporting, which the paper won.
After CalCoastNews began writing about hard money lending fraud by now-convicted and imprisoned developer Kelly Gearhart, the Tribune condemned CalCoastNews reporters noting they could be sued. Later, after multiple criminal investigation were disclosed, the Tribune began reporting on the same fraud. And again, the Tribune entered its original investigative reporting in journalism competitions.
In 2012, a Tribune columnist called CalCoastNews swamp gas for reporting on allegations that then- Paso Robles Chief of Police Lisa Solomon-Chitty had sexually assaulted her officers and violated laws banning ticket quotas. The Tribune followed on CalCoastNews’s stories and again entered its work as original investigative reporting, and again won an award.