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Family of inmate who died in SLO Co. custody says DOJ jail investigation is overdue

Posted at 6:34 PM, Nov 07, 2018

News Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice will investigate the San Luis Obispo County Jail for its mental health and medical treatment of inmates comes a little too late for the mother of one inmate who recently took his own life while in custody.

“If they’re gonna do this now, that’s good, it’s gonna help someone else,” Judy Nonella said. “I hope and pray it does because it’s too late for Mike.”

Nonella’s son, Michael, took his own life in a single cell at the San Luis Obispo County Jail in September.

She said Wednesday’s announcement that the DOJ is looking into medical and mental health at the jail is long overdue.

“I do not believe that a person, anybody actually, suffering from mental health should be isolated,” Nonella said.
“That makes it worse. That’s what my son went through.”

Michael Nonella is just one of several inmates to die while in custody at the SLO County Jail in the past 18 months. The death of inmate Andrew Holland, who died from a blood clot after 46 hours strapped to a chair, led the County to settle with Holland’s family for millions of dollars.

Sharon Holland, Andrew’s mother, said Wednesday, “Carty (Holland) and I welcome this. Federal intervention is necessary. There have been two more deaths in the SLO (County) jail since Andrew’s death. The county, for all its talk, has not reformed. We are grateful for the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and hopeful that federal oversight will bring about the much-needed change.”

SLO County Counsel Rita Neal said the recent inmate deaths are not necessarily the reason for the DOJ investigation.

“We don’t know what prompted this,” Neal said. “We do know the DOJ has been investigating other jails in California counties. We’re aware of at least three other counties investigated, so we’re assuming we were next on their list.”

A federal judge announced Monday plans for a probe into California prisons’ psychiatric care for inmates.

While it’s unclear if that’s the reason behind this local investigation, SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said in a statement that he “welcomes the DOJ investigation and any assistance and guidance to further improve areas identified by the Justice Department.”

Neal said that because it’s a civil, not criminal, investigation, there will be no fines or penalties. She added that the DOJ could identify necessary changes and enter into an agreement with the county to ensure changes are made.

Nonella said it’s a step in the right direction but the investigation does not do justice.

“Yes, this is good, it doesn’t bring him back and yes, I’m angry,” Nonella said.

The investigation could take up to a year, according to Neal.