San Luis Obispo Tribune
Viewpoint
Sheriff Parkinson on SLO County inmate's jail death
By Ian Parkinson
March 28, 2018

The Tribune and many citizens have questioned my actions and statements regarding Andrew Holland’s tragic death.

I have sincerely attempted to address the issues fully and factually. My department is also cooperating fully with the FBI’s investigation, which I formally requested.

But I realize my efforts have not been perceived as I intended: fully transparent and accountable.

I accept full responsibility for my department. I apologize to the community and to the Holland family for not personally doing more to help Andrew. I am committed to changing the system that led to this terrible event. With the support of the Board of Supervisors and advice from health professionals, my department and other county departments have already made significant changes in our policies and procedures to chart a better way forward.

We are determined to prevent a future tragedy. I know that my department has more work to do. We also have more work to do as a community. We are all failing if we think that our current system of jailing the mentally ill is adequate. As to the Tribune’s main questions and opinions about what happened, here are my responses:

Tribune: “Parkinson approved placing Holland in the restraint chair, but did the sheriff know he was held there for 46 hours? If so, did he condone that?”

Nobody would intentionally condone that. I was not aware of the duration, but I take responsibility for not realizing the terrible path the system had put Mr. Holland on. This was a system-wide communications failure, and I have changed procedures accordingly. In addition to giving staff better training to deal with mentally ill inmates, we also are providing training to empower the staff to recognize when to hit pause on policy and adjust to unpredictable situations.

Tribune: The county said that Holland was “found unconscious and unresponsive” and that he was “under the continual care of a physician” at the time. The video shows this was clearly not the case.

The Tribune is referring to the news release my department issued Jan. 23, 2017, the day after Mr. Holland’s death. I believe the video shows that Mr. Holland was indeed unconscious and unresponsive, and this is why our staff called for help. As to the statement that Mr. Holland was “under the continual care of a physician,” I should have made sure it more clearly described the medical and mental health attention Mr. Holland received. Medical and mental health professionals were regularly checking on his condition, approximately every four hours.

Tribune: And how does the sheriff explain the callous behavior of the deputies surrounding Holland?

The video shows a deputy who laughs while others are struggling to give Mr. Holland a life-saving injection. Because the paramedic couldn’t find a vein, the only choice was an injection directly into a leg bone in order to reach Mr. Holland’s bone marrow. This required the use of a very large needle. The deputy in question is actually responding to a colleague behind him who tells him he is feeling nausea from the needle and the stress of the situation. The deputy turns to his queasy colleague with a nervous laugh. I assure you, the deputy’s reaction is not being directed to Mr. Holland.

Tribune: Why was no one disciplined or held accountable for Holland's death?

If anybody in my department failed to follow procedures or engaged in deliberate misconduct, I would have taken immediate disciplinary action. I am the person to hold accountable. It’s my job to make sure our policies are appropriate and effective. I am also holding my department accountable to continue working with other county departments and community partners to implement substantial changes to the medical and mental health care provided to inmates.

I admit that I have been resentful about how another department’s actions left my staff in a tough position. As I told the Board of Supervisors about the lessons we have learned from this tragedy, we should have forced alternatives and demanded help for Mr. Holland.

I am deeply sorry that we failed Mr. Holland. I apologize to his family, and to the community. My colleagues and I are determined to make amends by doing all that we can to prevent another tragedy.

Ian Parkinson has served as the sheriff of San Luis Obispo County since 2011.