In a 90-minute exclusive sit-down interview with KSBY News, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson addressed the death of inmate Andrew Holland at the county jail in Jan. 2017.
Holland, who suffered from schizophrenia, died after being restrained in a chair for 46 hours.
The recent publication of video of Holland’s death has renewed calls from some members of the public and the Holland family for Parkinson to resign.
Many of Parkinson’s opponents felt he lied in a press release sent out the day after Holland’s death which said the 36-year-old was under the "continual care of a physician."
"The video published by The Tribune was cut down to seven minutes of 100 hours. There wasn’t any physician that we can see. Can you explain that?" asked KSBY News anchor Carina Corral.
"A psychiatrist and the county’s doctor had reviewed the case and their personnel were in the jail both on the mental health side and on the medical side," Parkinson answered.
"Was that cut out of the video? Was that just not shown?" Corral asked.
"They were clearly going in for regularly scheduled visits and so I don’t know other than assuming that portion was not included in the video that was published," Parkinson said.
The press release also said he was found unconscious, but correctional deputies can be seen watching Holland struggle until he goes unconscious.
"Again we’re talking a little bit of semantics here," Parkinson said. "They’re watching him, they obviously saw behavior that they felt he was in some type of medical distress and they found him unconscious. It wasn’t meant to deceive. I don’t understand how that would be a benefit to say he was found unconscious when it was a description to the fact that they did go in and found him unconscious."
"Looking at the video now, should they have gone in sooner?" Corral asked.
"Whether that would’ve made a difference to go in seconds, a minute earlier, I don’t know," Parkinson said. "I think they acted when they felt there was a change."
But the firestorm intensified when community members saw a correctional deputy who appears to be laughing as paramedics are trying to revive Holland.
"What was he laughing about? What could’ve been so funny in that moment?" Corral asked.
"What led up to that moment is, and this is where you are missing part of it, so those two deputies had been performing CPR and they were relieved by paramedics, they were trapped in the back corner of the cell," Parkinson said.
As resuscitation efforts continued, Parkinson says one of the deputies started feeling ill.
"He walked back over, he told both the sergeant standing there and the deputy, ‘I think I’m going to pass out and get sick,’" Parkinson continued. "The deputy turned and described himself as not feeling comfortable with it either and turned back to the deputy and smiled or laughed, however you want to describe it. It was nothing directed at Andrew."
Parkinson says the misinterpretation directed at these deputies has been unfair and damaging.
"Well, I’ll say they are not doing well," Parkinson said. "I think they’re going through some tough psychological times. They’ve had death threats, numerous to the jail. It’s hard on them. It would be hard on any of us."
"How do you respond to the SLO mayor calling for you to step aside?" Corral asked.
"I think she’s lacking facts," Parkinson answered.
"Doesn’t she have the facts? Doesn’t she have all of the info that you have?" Corral continued.
"I don’t know. I did have a conversation with her. I felt that she understood it and a month or two later she came out and she has the right to do that, and the Hollands have that right to do that," Parkinson said.
Andrew’s parents have been vocal in their efforts to get Parkinson out of office, supporting his opponent in the upcoming election and joining in the calls for his resignation.
"Amid the protests and the Hollands’ pressure, will you resign?" Corral asked.
"No, never. I will not resign. It will be up to the voters to decide and if that’s the decision they make, then I will live with that decision," Parkinson said.
An ongoing FBI investigation into whether civil rights were violated could also seal his fate as sheriff, but Parkinson feels he will be vindicated.
"I see nothing to indicate there was intent to do harm to him. I think it shows the opposite. We were trying," Parkinson concluded.
"Why was he kept in the chair for so long?" Corral asked.
"Because he was having a psychotic episode and he would not take medication and his behavior was not changing," Parkinson said.
"Did you make the call to put him in the chair and did you ever go to see him? Did you know he was there for 46 hours?" Corral asked.
"First answer is no, absolutely not. It is, I have no idea where that was conceived, but it’s impractical to think that when the jail or patrol is dealing with a violent offender that they would have to call me," Parkinson responded.
He added inmates are restrained on a daily basis, although he admitted that no one was ever kept there as long as Holland.
Every time an inmate goes in the restraint chair, there’s a paper trail, or a log that gets marked at the end of every shift.
"Reading the logs you would’ve known Holland was still in the chair, day after day," Corral responded.
"Conceivably yes, I would’ve know that he was in there, I don’t recall seeing the log. It was started on a Friday on the weekend, as much as I try on the weekends to read the logs when I’m not working sometimes I don’t. I became aware Sunday night when he passed the details," Parkinson answered.
During the 46 hours, Parkinson said Holland was fed and given water. He was not allowed up to use the restroom.
The sheriff said medical staff and correctional officers checked on him regularly. He was let out of the restraint chair after he agreed to take his medication and deputies saw a "change in his behavior."
Then Corral asked, "do you think Andrew Holland was treated inhumanely?"
The sheriff answered, "I think that length of time was naturally disturbing to everyone as it should be. I think the intent of Andrew being in the chair was to protect him not to hurt him."
But the family has asserted many times, the time in the chair did more than hurt Holland, it killed him.
"Was he tortured like his parents say he was?" Corral asked.
"No. No. Torture is a word that means you are intending to do harm to him. It was the opposite. I understand why they would feel that way. They are very hurt and they have a reason to be very hurt. I’m very sorry about that," Parkinson said.
Holland’s parents have rallied with protesters calling on Parkinson to resign. Protesters have set up a mock restraint chair and disrupted a board of supervisors meeting to draw attention to what they call the injustices committed against Holland.
Andrew’s parents are also supporting Parkinson’s opponent in the upcoming race, but Parkinson blames the system for failing their son, "I think we can all say today that he belonged in mental health and he was not admitted to mental health and that was not acceptable."
Holland was waiting 10 days for his court-ordered transfer to county mental health.
Mental health has told us there was a miscommunication as to why Holland wasn’t admitted.
"You’ve said sheriff’s department does hold some responsibility, what part is your responsibility?" Corral asked Parkinson.
"We should’ve forced the issue, we should’ve forced him out of that situation. We should’ve forced him, we should’ve taken him to the hospital and forced the issue in some other manner. We should’ve forced the mental health unit to take him or find another space."
Changes have since been put into effect. County mental health has said the process to get inmates into the facility has been expedited. Although, the sheriff said there are 11 inmates right now awaiting a transfer to mental health.
At the jail, the restraint chair is no longer used and arm and leg restraints are only used for two hours. The sheriff has also hired a chief medical officer to be staffed at the jail and is converting a portion of the jail into a mental health facility. Changes are coming swiftly, however, admittedly, it’s taken a tragedy for this to happen.
"We have a tremendous issue going on right now and it’s been pushed down the road and we are the last spot so we have to change the way we are doing business and it’s shame that we have a tragedy to turn this corner," Parkinson said.
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