The candidates running in the highly contentious San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s race squared off in a debate Wednesday evening.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson is running for this third term. His challenger, Gregory Clayton, retired as a San Luis Obispo police officer 25 years ago and is now a private investigator.
Voters are paying close attention to this race following the high profile case of Andrew Holland who died while in custody at the jail after being placed in a restraint chair for 46 hours.
"We have a very progressive community. We don’t need to torture and kill our inmates," Clayton said during the debate.
Parkinson also addressed the issue, "It consumes nearly every day that I work on what we can do to change our system."
The questions from voters were proposed earlier to the SLO County Latino Outreach Council, which hosted the debate, via email. Questions were also asked in paper form from audience members.
The president of the Latino Outreach Council, Jacqueline Frederick, moderated the debate.
Of the roughly 40 questions asked during the two-hour long forum, many focused on Holland’s treatment and changes at the jail.
In front of a packed house and with Holland’s parents in the front row, the candidates addressed his now high-profile death.
"We’ve all had things in life we wish we could change, unfortunately in this world that’s not possible. What is possible is effecting positive change," Parkinson said.
"On behalf of Andrew Holland, the video speaks for itself. His death was unnecessary and I think the sheriff would agree with that. His death at the hands of others is inexcusable. We are better than that," Clayton said.
Holland, who was a schizophrenic, was awaiting transfer to the county mental health facility when he died.
Both candidates agreed mental illness is the biggest problem facing law enforcement today.
"I want to make sure that we have adequate personnel for psychiatric nurses and technicians and a full-time psychiatric doctor available and a psychiatric care unit established," Clayton said of the changes he would make at the jail if elected.
Parkinson said those types of plans are already in the works, starting with the hiring a chief medical officer at the jail. "We’re also in contact, in contract negotiations and discussions with the state of California to do a ten-bed facility and open up our own facility within the jail."
Other issues raised: both also agreed that Prop 47, which releases certain prisoners early, needs to be revised and both have concerns with sanctuary city policies.
A 14-year-old also asked how each plans to keep high school campuses safe.
"We have mapping for every school in the county. We just rolled out a panic button for every 3,200 faculty members in all our schools," Parkinson responded.
While Clayton proposed a program that alerts authorities when gunshots are fired. "And gives the GPS coordinates and cuts the response time in half to our schools."
Each candidate also attacked the other’s experience.
"He was a line level police officer. He did not have any supervision or management experience," Parkinson said.
"My response is: how has all those years in law enforcement helped you when Andrew Holland was held in the chair?" Clayton asked.
The room was packed with supporters of each candidate and some undecided voters.
Clayton supporters held signs that read "lie," but those signs were not used and there were neither outbursts nor disruptions during the debate.
The SLO County Latino Outreach Council will be hosting another debate on April 25 at the SLO County Government Center at 5:30 with the four judicial candidates running for two open spots.