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SLO County DA's office, FBI to conduct investigation into April 13 inmate death

Greta Mart/KCBX
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff-Coroner Ian Parkinson at Thursday's press conference.

A 60-year-old inmate at the San Luis Obispo County Jail died in the early morning hours Thursday. It’s the second irregular inmate death since the start of the year and it prompted San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson to call a press conference Thursday afternoon to announce he has initiated an outside investigation into the in-custody death. 

According to the Sheriff’s Office, just after 2 a.m. Thursday, the county jail inmate complained of shoulder pain. he was seen by a nurse, who checked his vital signs and sent the inmate back to his dorm bunk in the lower-level security area of the jail.

Less than an hour later, a deputy noticed the inmate was breathing irregularly and was unresponsive. Despite CPR and the use of a defibrillator, the inmate died.

At Thursday’s press conference, the county sheriff spoke for over a half-hour about how the county jail is required to house mentally ill people and those without a history of good medical care.

“We have generally the most unhealthy population, per capita, very similar to a hospital. We have people that have not had medical care, pre-medical care...they have ongoing medical issues,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson said in the interest of openness and transparency, he requested the county district attorney’s office conduct an investigation into the inmate’s death. San Luis Obispo County Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are also participating in the inquiry at Parkinson’s request. An agent from the Santa Maria FBI office was on hand for the press conference. 

On Wednesday the San Luis Obispo Tribune reportedthe results of a coroner’s report into an inmate death in January. The Tribune reports a 36-year-old inmate died of an embolism 20 minutes after he was released from a plastic restraint chair where he had been held for nearly two days.

Parkinson did not speak about specific details of the two deaths; rather he spoke about the county jail’s limitations in dealing with mentally ill and sick inmates.

“The jail is the last stop, and we’re the only stop that cannot refuse them. And at the end of the day, we are forced to deal with a situation where a) they do not belong at the facility, and b) we do not have the capabilities of treating them as they deserve to be treated,” Parkinson said.

The Sheriff’s Office does not suspect foul play in the most recent inmate death and said it will release his name when all next-of-kin have been notified.