$5 million settlement for SLO County Jail inmate death
San Luis Obispo County announced this week it will pay $5 million dollars to the parents of a 36-year-old man who died while in the custody at the county jail.
Andrew Holland was in jail for 16 months at the time of his death in January of this year. He faced multiple charges, including resisting arrest and battery, and was awaiting a transfer to a mental health facility because he had schizophrenia.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said Holland was striking and inflicting injury on himself before he was placed in a restraint chair for 46 hours. The chair was positioned in a glass cell so that he could be observed by jail staff.
KCBX obtained an autopsy report, performed by the county medical examiner, which said Holland died from an intrapulmonary embolism, a blood clot that formed in his leg and traveled to his lungs, cutting off his flow of oxygen. The examiner determined the death occurred due to “natural causes.”
However, the Holland family sought out an independent autopsy, which confirmed the intrapulmonary embolism, but suspected the blood clot formed because Holland was unable to stand for the nearly two days he sat in the restraint chair.
County Council Rita Neal announced the settlement an hour before the family and their lawyer had scheduled a press conference, saying they were going to reveal “disturbing new information about what happened to their son.”
“We tried to determine and coordinate to release [news of the settlement] knowing that the press conference was going to occur shortly thereafter,” Neal told KCBX Thursday.
At the press conference, the family stood with their lawyer, Paula Canny, and explained the details of more than 100 hours of video footage taken of Holland while he was restrained in the chair.
“To be restrained naked in that chair for 46 hours in a glass cell, open to the whole inmate reception area for the whole world to see. Naked," Canny said. "Without adequate food. Without adequate hydration, water. Without adequate medication. Forced to urinate and defecate on himself.”
KCBX asked Neal specifically about these allegations, and she did not deny that these events occurred under the county's supervision.
“People describe things differently," Neal said. "And the county’s response is, ‘we really do feel saddened by Andrew’s death. We have discontinued use of the chair and really have made a lot of changes since his passing. And hopefully, nothing like this will ever happen again.’”
As a part of the settlement, the Sheriff also agreed to shorten the time that inmates will wait to be transferred to a mental health facility; to ease communication between different county departments and families; and to institute many other reforms.
The family’s lawyer said she has doubts whether or not the County will keep up with these changes.
“People would be horrified if that was in Guantanamo," Canny said. "This is San Luis Obispo County. This is Oprah’s happiest place in the world. When something this horrible happens here, something is terribly wrong. And that terrible wrongness is in the operation of the county jail by Sheriff Parkinson.”
The family says they plan to use the settlement money to fund a new foundation named for their son. Its purpose will be to aid people with mental illnesses who they say are cycled through the criminal justice system.
“He was more than an inmate," Sharon Holland, Andrew Holland's mother, said. "He was more than a man who had a brain disease. He was a wonderful son.”
Neal said the settlement was made to avoid a lengthy legal battle with the Holland family. Neal said money will come from CSAC Excess Insurance Authority, a county insurance pool, after they pay a $10,000 deductible, which will come from the county general fund with money collected from taxpayers.