Angry county jail staffers blast Tribune’s fake news story

April 20, 2017

By KAREN VELIE

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.

Carty (Andrew’s father) and Andrew Holland

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.

Susan Cameron

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.

Following CalCoastNews’s article, the killing of animals at Dancing Star was curtailed, at least temporarily.

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.







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12 Comments

  1. Truth1 says:

    Journalism and being an investigative reporter used to mean something. The media and politicians have lost almost all credibility. Once your integrity is gone you have nothing left. No wonder the Tribune endorsed Adam Hill…he must be a ‘good guy’ after all, the Tribune said he is, right?

    As a communtiy we have a DUTY to give CalCoastNews the support they need and deserve. Contrary to what Jack Nicholson said, WE CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH and are owed the facts from media news sources whose No# 1 priority is to report the truth.

    (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  2. DocT says:

    There is only one source of local news in SLO County: CalCoast News

    The rest of what we are supposed to think is news is best described as propaganda. The Tribune is propaganda. KVEC and KSBY are also propaganda.

    (9) 25 Total Votes - 17 up - 8 down
  3. SLOBIRD says:

    Is it any wonder that The Tribune is losing readership like flies on tack paper. I closed my subscription about a year ago and I know at least 5 friends that have done the same thing. I was paying almost $400 a year for nothing. Between CCN and Newtimes (and free news stories on the internet by the Tribune) I got better and honest news and headlines then with that rag for free. I have been reading the Sacramento Bee (free edition) and it must be owned by the same Company as the Tribune, same format, some of the same articles, etc.

    The Tribune does not even have a full time staff running their local office. It is and has been a waste for years and anyone paying them for the trash they produce as flushing $400 a year. You can even go on line and get the free weekly ads.

    (35) 51 Total Votes - 43 up - 8 down
  4. CentralcoastRN says:

    When you have unqualified people running the jail medical, this is what happens. And when the Tribune goes to the unqualified people for comment, of course they are going to say whatever they have to to smooth things over.

    The County wants to pay upper management 250k + salaries, but won’t give the rank and file staff pay that is fair and comparable to the market. So, what you get working for you are several distinct groups of employees: the employee who loves the job and would like more pay, but stays because of lifelong friends and upcoming retirement. 2) employees who like the job but hope that they will someday have a job with fair pay and safe working conditions. 3) unhappy employees who see the pay and safety issues, they see the poor treatment of fellow staff and inmates, and they are the vocal whistle blowers who are going to supervision and the news. Then you have the last group- the otherwise unhireable elsewhere people. These are the people who are the pill poppers, the alcoholics, the “yes” men/women who would literally allow management to crap on them because they know they cannot work anywhere else at this point.

    The truth lies with those whistleblowers who still give a damn. The Tribune doesn’t think their viewpoint fits SLO County’s “happy place” narrative.

    (43) 53 Total Votes - 48 up - 5 down
  5. seesfarther says:

    I’m sorry. Did I miss something? I thought this was an article about “Jail Staffers Blast(ing) Tribune’s Fake News Story.”
    Did it mysteriously morph in to a horn tooting event about how CCN is the only true news source in town?
    While I appreciate their ongoing effort to provide us with the latest and greatest, please let’s stick to the topic OK?
    I’m curious as to how the County’s Human Resources Department and/or jail officials think they can snatch employees’ phones? Can CCN confirm or disprove the legality of that? What are the consequences of telling the jail officials “NO WAY CAN YOU HAVE MY CELL PHONE!”
    And what is Jim Erb doing to protect the rights under the “Whistle Blower Act” of the employees who are in fact blowing the whistle and receiving retaliation by supervisors, jail, and/or administration staff. What is going to happen to those whose phones display evidence of sending emails to CCN? Is the Whistle Blower Act going to help them or will they be shown the door?
    Concerned readers want to know! Come on you guys, DIG! There has got to be more to this story.

    (24) 52 Total Votes - 38 up - 14 down
    • CentralcoastRN says:

      This. Exactly. These aren’t even work phones, but their PERSONAL phones. The administration thinks they are untouchable. Staffers need to stand up and ask their useless unions to earn their $$ for once.

      (31) 37 Total Votes - 34 up - 3 down
    • Scarlet says:

      seesfarther must know something everyone else does not.

      Did you already know about the awards issue, which backs up the “fake news” claim? If CCN didn’t inform you just now, NOBODY would, including you.

      Keep fighting, Karen. You are on the side of right and the only voice for those without one.

      (20) 38 Total Votes - 29 up - 9 down
      • seesfarther says:

        ??? – I honestly don’t know anything about an awards issue or how it backs up the “fake news” claim. And I’m definitely not a CCN insider.

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

    The California Newspaper Publishers Association only gives awards to members who pay to be members. All papers who pay them thousands every year get awards. Disgusting that not only does the Tribune not give credit for other writer’s work, they apply for awards. Shame, shame.

    (40) 52 Total Votes - 46 up - 6 down
  7. ajdury says:

    As a local, I used to read true news. The Tribune was once that source. After the Trib tripped over their feet, the New Times was cutting edge and investigative.

    It has been a few years since either one stepped up to “hard-hitting”, or even “investigative” – a level I appreciate and respect.

    CCN has been both.

    Like RonHolt, I agree – CCN has its imperfections. I still take it over the out-of-touch Telegram Tribune news outlet and the severely out-of-touch New Times “pretending to be cutting-edge news” outlet.

    We’ve got problems, when it comes to reliable local news.Until we fix those problems, I’ll take mine from Cal Coast News.

    (44) 66 Total Votes - 55 up - 11 down
  8. RonHolt says:

    This is surprising to someone? The Tribune’s reporting staff has been composed of someone paraphrasing press releases at the direction of another who has a list of people and organizations that need to be pampered. This has been going on for about 20 years.

    CCN has its imperfections but is still better than the Trib by a wide margin.

    (47) 67 Total Votes - 57 up - 10 down
  9. Rich in MB says:

    Without CCN, we would have no investigative new outlet in the county…no watch dog, nada.

    (70) 96 Total Votes - 83 up - 13 down

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