BOS needs outside investigation into jail death

August 3, 2017

Mike F. Brown

By MICHAEL F. BROWN

The policing and jail business is inherently hazardous. The opportunity for mistakes is ever present. Violent acts and their potential are a constant threat. From time to time split second decisions must be made, such as whether to shoot or otherwise incapacitate a proven or potentially armed assailant.

Sheriff’s deputies, police officers, corrections officers, highway patrol officers, and probation officers can face terrible decisions, often alone and in the dark. They deserve the utmost support and respect.

When an apparent tragic mistake occurs, such as the admitted missteps that resulted in the death of San Luis Obispo County Jail prisoner Andrew Holland and a $5 million taxpayer settlement, it is incumbent upon the elected San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, who constitute the accountable legislative authority, to take control of the situation.

The board should ask for the most complete and exhaustive formal investigation possible. and then issue a full and completely transparent report of what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and which officials and employees failed to follow administrative procedures and more importantly in this case, common sense and care for human life.

After all, a prisoner is already in a constrained environment.

In this regard, county staff has indicated that the county is conducting an “overall investigation” of the situation. The methodology and staffing of the investigation have not been disclosed. Thus it is not known if it is an in-house effort or if there is an independent outside investigator, such as the county engaged in 2009 to investigate its then-county administrator and assistant county administrator with regard to a litany of allegations (subsequently proved) involving improper personal conduct and conflicts of interest.

It seems deficient that the board has not engaged independent outside expert help, given the much more tragic and serious nature of this debacle.

Relatedly, the sheriff had announced previously that he had requested the FBI to investigate the matter. On Aug. 2, the FBI confirmed that it was investigating potential civil rights violations. Currently, accusations are circulating that there are jail videotapes displaying staff behavior in the Holland case that may go beyond inadvertent negligence. These allegations may be considered in the FBI’s investigation.

It has been reported and confirmed that the Los Angeles Times has made a public records release request for these videos. It is also reported that other news outlets have subsequently filed their own requests. The matter may begin to take on national notoriety as a result.

County counsel and staff are considering how to handle the media demands. Has the SLO County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to review the videos?

The fact that the FBI is conducting an investigation does not relieve the board of supervisors from the responsibility of conducting its own investigation of the structural, management, performance, and communications problems evinced in its own statement of “sweeping changes.” The FBI is not a management consultant and is not responsible for ensuring accountability and discipline within the county bureaucracy.

The board can little afford to appear to be consenting to a cover up in a varnished investigation by their own staff bureaucrats and officials, some of whom are political supporters and many of whom are long term colleagues with strong professional and social ties among themselves.

So far, the county’s official response has been to admit mistakes and to promulgate a list of revised administrative procedures. The substance of the changes suggests serious operational, communication, and management problems. For example the document, in the form of news release posted on the county website, states in part:

County officials have taken a hard look at the circumstances leading up to Mr. Holland’s death. Since January, the county has made sweeping changes in an effort to prevent a tragedy like this from reoccurring. Some of the more significant changes include:

There are only 16 beds at the County’s only Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF), but there are about 600 county jail inmates at any given time and a substantial number of these inmates suffer from mental illness. The SLO County Health Agency changed protocols to ensure that the facility can now promptly accept mentally ill inmates who are a danger to themselves or others.

COLAB NOTE: If the PHF is full, why don’t they have a contract with an outside locked mental health facility such as Vista Del Mar in Ventura to receive the overflow? Did anyone in the county refuse to fund such a contract?

The Sheriff’s Office discontinued the use of its restraint chair and has updated its restraint policies. Restraint chairs are commonly used in emergency situations at jails across the state to prevent inmates from harming themselves.

The sheriff’s office has also restricted the amount of time an inmate can spend in a safety cell to no more than 72 hours. Now, after 48 hours, only a Health Agency psychiatrist can extend the amount of time an inmate can spend in a safety cell, and only by 24 hours after an in-person assessment of the inmate. After 48 hours in a safety cell, an inmate must be either cleared for jail housing, cleared for an extended stay in a safety cell by a psychiatrist, admitted to the County Psychiatric Health Facility, or transported to a hospital. 

COLAB NOTE: What does the 48-hour clearance do? Holland was already in mortal danger prior to 48 hours. Again, if the PHF is full, why not transport them to a contract hospital sooner? Hill and Gibson are always bragging about the great County Budget. Did they not have the funds? What happened here?

Both the Sheriff’s Office and the Health Agency have added dedicated supervision of the medically and mentally ill inmates at County Jail and have increased communication between the Sheriff’s staff and Health Agency staff. 

COLAB NOTE: What does this mean? In the past, if there had been a problem, wouldn’t the jail commander or duty jail shift commander pick up the phone and call the duty Behavioral Health Department manager? If it wasn’t resolved, why didn’t they call the sheriff, behavioral health director, health agency director, and CAO to get action?

In the end, and if the investigation is independent and the results are publicly disclosed, there will be much more citizen support for law enforcement, the justice system, the health agency, and the county leadership.

There are several new separate jail death suits brewing, one of which is predicted to be very high cost.

Mike Brown is the Government Affairs Director of the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business (COLAB) of San Luis Obispo County. He had a 42-year career as a city manager and county executive officer in four states including California. He can be reached at mike@colabslo.org.

 







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7 Comments

  1. womanwhohasbeenthere says:

    L.A.RamsFan, it’s not up to a private attorney not hired by the family to call for investigations etc. Brown is spot-on here.

    B-17 since you brought it up, hopefully will pass with the support of locals across the political spectrum, from Stew Jenkins to Kevin Rice to former mayor Allen Settle. It’s all about control and money, two things all government agencies seek incessantly and never have enough of.

    Vote YES on B-17 and stop invasive home inspections of renters. They have the same right to privacy (and respect) as property owners and that’s what B-17 affirms. It does nothing to “destroy” affordable housing. It’s a city ordinance which does not change state and federal laws requiring affordable housing. Our present Council already has Version 2.0 of the rental inspection ordinance ready to discuss in September and the inspectors, their supervisor and clerk are still on payroll.

    Don’t believe the city! If they weren’t making money on it , they would not be preparing to circumvent the outcome of a private lawsuit and an initiative to outlaw this ridiculous invasion of privacy.
    Vote YES on B-17.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. George Bailey says:

    Despite the fact that San Luis Obispo County sheriff Ian Parkinson is an elected official, it is now well past time that the 5 county supervisors join together to place him on an indefinite leave of absence so the FBI investigation can run its course.

    Apparently, the internal affairs investigators who viewed the secret videotapes in the Andrew Holland case were taken aback enough o contact the FBI, and Sheriff Parkinson opposed their move to broaden the investigation. The $5 million dollar settlement that SLO County made with the Holland estate suggest more than simple negligence.

    No man is above the law, including the local sheriff, so Ian Parkinson should be placed on l=leave immediately, and, it=f it is determined he colluded to cover-up the intentional abuse of Mr. Holland by his underlings, Sheriff Parkinson should be indicted by a criminal grand jury and prosecuted for manslaughter.

    Any reasonable person knows that leaving a mentally ill person strapped to a gurney, unable to move their hands and legs for 48 hours would likely cause losing injury and pain, and surely
    Mr. Parkinson understood the danger to the taxpaying public.

    We must speak truth to power and cannot allow the local political elites to run amok in our community. I say the SLO board of supervisors should suspend Parkinson immediately, order ALL staff to cooperate fully and allow the full, complete and independent investigation to run its course.

    Families of victims should sue Mr. Parkinson independently for the violation of their civil rights.

    George

    (5) 9 Total Votes - 7 up - 2 down
  3. straddle says:

    Besides the 1st two paragraphs not having anything to do with the situation at hand, these are probably the most coherent and useful comments I’ve ever hear from Mr Brown.

    Some of the problems are inherent in small town, IMHO. County supes know Parkinson intimately, they’ve walked down the runway at the Madonna fashion show with him and god knows what else: beers after work, BBQ’s at the house, look the other way when junior gets caught smoking pot in perfumo canyon??

    Doesn’t matter that Ian’s a good ole boy however — he’s now cost us $5 million and if the LA times runs with this, maybe lots more.

    Time to step up and do the job you were elected to do.

    (9) 15 Total Votes - 12 up - 3 down
    • MrYan says:

      I have to agree with your opening remarks about this being a useful article.

      Mr Brown is usually over the top with hyperbole–which I think takes away from the points he is making.

      No references to enviro-facism, junta’s etc. or framing this issue in a partisan vein.

      Congrats on keeping it “Joe Friday” for a change there Mike. Keep it up.

      The desire for an accountable government is shared on both sides of the aisle.

      If you don’t set out to pick a fight you’ll encounter fewer enemies.

      Let’s hope the BOS takes your advice and commits the necessary resources to fix this problems of inmate deaths.

      (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  4. mazin says:

    How is having an inmate “who died after jail guards left him strapped in a chair for more than 46 hours” similar to a “time to time split second decisions must be made, such as whether to shoot or otherwise incapacitate a proven or potentially armed assailant”? The logic behind the two examples does not follow.

    (12) 12 Total Votes - 12 up - 0 down
    • L.A.RamsFan says:

      You beat me to the punch mazin and if I might add?

      “Sheriff’s deputies, police officers, corrections officers, highway patrol officers, and probation officers can face terrible decisions, often alone and in the dark. They deserve the utmost support and respect.”

      “Often alone an in the dark” can also translate into an unaccountable and unsuppervised situation where it is a proven fact that some LEO’s will break the law and then bend the facts, or just outright lie, to cover their asses!

      “They deserve the utmost support and respect” should read “”They deserve the utmost support and respect AFTER the utmost scrutiny is done on what they report compared to their actual action(s).”

      The benefit of the doubt that LEO’s once enjoyed has been replaced by skepticism they have earned either by their own actions or by the actions they choose to ignore in others of their trade…

      I get downright pissed about this subject! Most put these individuals on some sort of godly pedestal without regard to the one determining factor in all of these types of behavior; LEO’s are human! Being such they are just as susceptible to all of the mental infirmities that the rest of us can have! The difference is they have the color of authority and that damn badge coverin’ their asses even when they’re proven to be wrong!

      Society at large now does not prescribe to the Constitutional right of “Innocence Until Proven Guilty” so why in the fuck do LEO’s get this benefit automatically?

      Want to minimize this type of behavior? I have a suggestion; if convicted of a crime the cop criminal should receive the mandatory maximum sentence without the benefit of any type of good time or work time or parole consideration! Period. That would include any of enhancements carried by law. No plea bargains, no mitigating circumstances, nope! None of that shit! And! Have them walk the line with those they put away while breakin’ the law themselves. No protective custody, no special needs yard, none of that shit!

      (2) 6 Total Votes - 4 up - 2 down
  5. L.A.RamsFan says:

    I find it refreshing that we have a politician from the right actually bringing some light to this situation. His political counterpart from the other side of the aisle, Mr. Jenkins, would rather spend his time on CCN’s Opinion Page spouting about the B-17 “bomb” (redundant as hell since it’s already been repealed. Yea, I agree with Ms. Harmon; it’s gonna open the door for a bunch of silly ass lawsuits to benefit the lawyers and make the current nonexistent “affordable housing” even more remote down the road while costing SLO’s taxpayers in the long run).

    Stew! Why haven’t you spoke up about this? You’re seen as a civil rights advocate in SLO and have brought cases to SLO’s courts that are far less serious in nature and outcome then these deaths and mistreatments in the county jail. Why haven’t you spoken up? I’d be very interested in your perspective…

    (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down

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