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Protesters demand justice for death of SLO County Jail inmate

Photos by Colleen Dang / Cuestonian Staff Photographer

By Holly Walsh
Life & Culture Editor

Protesters gathered in front of San Luis Obispo County Courthouse to call for the resignation of Sheriff Ian Parkinson and District Attorney Dan Dow for the death of an inmate in what some people are alleging was caused by torture.

The March 17 protest was sparked by a video recently released by The San Luis Obispo Tribune that allegedly showed inmate Andrew Holland strapped to a restraint chair for 46 hours naked, covered in his own feces, and under mockery of the guards working there.

Holland was a mentally ill inmate that was in and out of custody, he had been incarcerated since September 2015 after a public disturbance in a city park that led to his arrest for battling with local police, according to the LA Times, and died Jan. 22, 2017, in the San Luis Obispo County Jail.

This marks the 12th inmate death at the SLO County Jail since January 2012, nearly three times the national average, according to the Tribune’s report. Cuestonian requests for information directly from the Sheriff’s Department were not immediately returned.

Reports indicate Holland’s family received a $5 million settlement from the county in July. There is also an on-going FBI investigation into whether civil rights violations occurred.

The county’s medical examiner ruled Holland’s cause of death as “natural” due to a pulmonary embolism, when a blood clot in his leg traveled to his lung, according to the Tribune.

In the video Holland is seen writhing on the floor and losing consciousness, while deputies are shown watching from outside the cell laughing.

“Given what we know now, it’s clear Sheriff Parkinson lied about the circumstances of Andrew’s death, in an apparent effort to cover it up, and now is trying to blame other county departments for the death of an inmate who was in his department’s custody,” Rosemary Wrenn, chair of the SLO County Democratic Party, said at the rally. “The buck stops with Ian Parkinson, whether he likes that or not.”

Parkinson acknowledged in August before the Board of Supervisors that the jail did bear some responsibility in Holland’s death. But in a statement Parkinson released March 17 on his Facebook page, he noted that Holland had a history of mental illness and violence and that he was put in a restraint chair for his own safety.

“Human life is precious,” Parkinson said. “Jail regulations are intended to protect both inmates and staff from harm and injury, the Andrew Holland case was no exception.”

Parkinson said that all necessary restraint regulations were followed by the department and the backlash insisting otherwise was false.

“The Sheriff’s Office and the County have been and will remain focused on effecting positive change on mental health issues in our community,” Parkinson said.

However, protesters were adamant in their claims. People gathered at the rally with posters saying, “You laughed? Andrew died? How many more?” and also, “People died. Ian lied.”

Amongst protestors were mothers like Lisa Kania and Dawn Anderson, both of whom have mentally ill sons that allegedly experienced cruelty when they were inmates in SLO County Jail.

Kania’s son, Joseph Perez, reportedly experienced a “psychotic break” at SLO County Mental Health and an employee had him arrested.

“It was horrible – there is no reason why people with brain injuries [mental illness] need to be put in jail, a psychotic break needs help not jail,” Kania said through tears.

During Perez’s stay he was reportedly held in a locked unit completely naked and without any communication to even his family, his mother said, adding that the jail staff were well aware of his mental illness.

“A person’s life is no laughing matter,” Kania said.

Kania’s friend Anderson has a son that suffers from schizophrenia and also spent time in SLO County Jail.

During his stay, Anderson’s son reportedly spent eight months in solitary confinement and destroyed the jail cell so bad he was put into a padded cell for three weeks at a time.

“He was always naked with cameras on him, there was no communication for weeks and it made him very violent,” Anderson said.

Anderson said her son had gotten “such bad hemorrhoids” and that the jail allegedly never treated him for it. Anderson began to break down and shake her head while looking at her friend Kania.

“My son went in a few days after Holland died, it could’ve been him put in that chair,” Anderson says through tears.

The rally had various speakers each with the same call to action demanding Parkinson and Dow to resign from their positions. Amongst those speakers were Holland’s brother and Mayor Heidi Harmon.

One protester was Ron Epping, who used to teach mock trial in Ventura. Epping said “SLO county criminal justice system favors those with lots of money and less for those impoverished.”

Epping was just one of many holding an anti-Ian Parkinson sign.

“This sign represents exactly how I feel, lies were being told and Parkinson knew exactly what was going on,” Epping said. “We have national law prohibiting torture, yet it is going on in this county.”