Inmate Dies after 46 Hours in a Restraint Chair - San Luis Obispo Pays $5 Million for Wrongful Death

Inmate Dies after 46 Hours in a Restraint Chair - San Luis Obispo Pays $5 Million for Wrongful Death

Andrew Holland was a troubled young man. Holland died last year of a horrible, agonizing death while in a small California jail. But until county officials released a video of the man’s final hours, his story was buried along with those of hundreds of other men and women who die each year while supposedly in the care of jailers.

On January 22nd of 2017, Holland died while being held at the San Luis Obispo County Jail.

Video footage suggests that he died after being held immobile and naked in a restraint chair for 46 hours.

As first responders administered CPR, one deputy is seen standing alongside Holland’s lifeless body while smiling and laughing. A total of a dozen inmates have died in that small jail in just five years.

The coroner believes that Holland died of a pulmonary embolism. He was just 36 years old. The family and county sheriff disputed whether the embolism was caused by Holland being physically restrained and immobile for two days.

We don’t think it takes too much common sense to figure out that if Holland wasn’t held in that chair for so long he would still be alive today.

Like millions of Americans, Andrew Holland suffered from mental illness. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a long term debilitating mental disorder. Schizophrenics suffer a breakdown in the relationship between emotions and behavior. This frequently leads to inappropriate behaviors and faulty perceptions.

Sufferers are frequently delusional and often wind up in jail on minor charges.

Andrew Holland had been in jail since September 2015. At the time of his death, he shouldn’t have even been in jail. A California Superior Court judge had already ruled that he be transferred in a psychiatric facility.

Housing Mental Health Patients in Jail

A national study reveals that 73 percent of women and 55 percent of men held in state prisons have mental health issues. That percentage is believed to be even higher for county jail inmates. Many of those held in prisons and jails suffer from schizophrenia.

With no known cure, many of these folks spend much of their life in and out of custody.

Why? Their antisocial behavior and delusions often leads to minor confrontations with authorities. Rather than house these people in jails, however, they belong in a hospital.

In Andrew Holland’s case, a judge already ordered him hospitalized.

The sad reality is that jails are much cheaper than hospitals. That Andrew Holland was in the San Luis Obispo County Jail probably is the one thing that may not be the sheriff’s fault. If there are no hospital beds, the default housing location for people like Mr. Holland is the local county lock up.

All that said, jailers still have a legal, ethical and moral responsibility to care for all the people in their custody. That includes the tens of thousands suffering from disease, addiction or mental health issues.

There is absolutely no excuse for holding anyone in a restraint chair for two days.

There is absolutely no excuse for allowing a person to sit naked and in his or her own excrement for days on end.

A report by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department says that at the time of his death, Holland was in an observation cell and was found unresponsive. There was not even a mention of the restraint chair.

That fact wouldn’t come out for months.

Other Jail Deaths at San Luis Obispo County Jail

In April of 2017, just three months after Andrew Harmon’s death, another inmate died at the San Luis Obispo County Jail. That inmate, Kevin McLaughlin, was 60 years old at the time of his death. He died just a couple days after the coroner ruled that Holland’s death was “natural.”

McLaughlin told deputies he needed to go to the hospital and was suffering left shoulder pain, numbness and clamminess. Classic signs of a heart attack. Deputies elected not to send him to the hospital as it was late.

Instead they told him he could see the jail doctor in the morning.

Morning never came for Mr. McLaughlin.

What is especially amazing is that a deputy checked on McLaughlin at 3:13 am and found his breathing was “not normal.” This after McLaughlin had earlier asked to go to the hospital. When the deputy next checked, McLaughlin wasn’t breathing at all.

Holding Jails. Responsible for Inmate Deaths

Working in a jail isn’t an easy job. Some corrections officers lose their humanity. They don’t belong working there.

The video released by the county shows a jailer smiling and laughing as first responders try to resuscitate the lifeless body of Andrew Holland. These are the same officers, of course, who restrained Mr. Holland for two days strapped to a chair.

In April of 2017, county Grand Jury determined there was a lack of oversight at the jail. Unfortunately, the Grand Jury stopped short of taking any action or even making concrete recommendations to solve the problem. Their report simply said that the sheriff and county health authorities should perform a comprehensive joint review.

Of note in the Grand Jury report was a finding that rehabilitation programs faced resistance from county staff. The laughing deputy in the video is the face of a problem that goes much deeper. The video suggests a total lack of leadership.

California has civil grand juries that are allowed to make non-binding recommendations. Their recommendations aren’t enough to spur action, however.

The FBI is now investigating. While their involvement is certainly needed and welcome, it won’t bring Andrew Holland or the other 11 inmates who died at the San Luis Obispo Jail back to life.

So what can be done?

First, we hope the FBI does a thorough investigation.

We know that correctional guidelines don’t allow anyone to be restrained for more than a couple hours in a restraint chair. We also believe that forcing someone to sit immobile naked and in their own excrement by anyone’s definition is cruel and unusual punishment.

The officers and supervisors responsible for Holland’s detention in these inhumane conditions must be held accountable. And a grand jury supervised by the county prosecutor in the same county that employs the sheriff is not the person to conduct such a review.

Beyond any criminal prosecutions, the county sheriff and jail staff need to be held civilly accountable. No prison sentence or award of monetary damages will bring back Andrew Holland. But a multi-million damage award will certainly get the attention of county supervisors, the sheriff and hopefully voters.

Money is a big motivator. In this case, it can be used as a motivator for positive change.

No sheriff, jailer or county administration is happy about spending money on mental health programs for jail inmates. These folks belong in hospitals and not jails.

As long as society decides to place these patients in jails, however, the jails have the obligation to properly care for them.

A large damages award sends a signal to county officials that it is better, less expensive and certainly more humane to provide proper services for inmates suffering from mental illness than to pay out multi-million damage awards.

Andrew Holland Post Script

The sheriff asked the FBI and DA to conduct an investigation into the deaths. Welcome news but such an investigation was likely to occur anyway. The captain in charge of corrections at the sheriff’s department suspended use of restrain chairs the day after the sheriff asked for an investigation.

And in July, San Luis Obispo County paid Andrew’s family $5 million in settlement of all wrongful death and pain and suffering claims.

The FBI continues to investigate.

So why are we writing this story now? The video.

In this age of social media, video is king. People die daily in jails and prisons across America. Because the deaths occur behind prison walls, we rarely get the full story. We didn’t even know that Andrew Holland was lashed down in a restraint chair for two days until months later.

The video released by the county gives Andrew a face. We can see and almost feel his pain. And we can all feel outrage at the behavior of the corrections officers who watched him die. Every one of these inmate deaths has a story behind it. All of these inmates leave behind families and friends.

Call to Action for Injured Inmates or Families Who Lost a Loved One

If you or a loved one suffered a permanent catastrophic injury or died while behind bars, you may have a case.

The Eight Amendment to the US Constitution protects all of us from cruel and unusual punishment. And federal civil rights laws protect us too.

Inmates are entitled to basic medical care and that includes the roughly 50% of prisoners with mental health issues.

When Kevin McLaughlin presented with all the signs of a heart attack and asked to go to a hospital, he should not have been told to wait until the jail doctor was available in the morning. Heart attacks don’t wait.

When Andrew Holland was acting out in his cell, he should not have been strapped to a chair for two days and left to die.

Few lawyers concentrate on jail death and police misconduct cases. The deck is stacked in favor of the guards, cops and jails. Law enforcement and corrections staff enjoy legal immunities that the rest of us don’t have. But they can and should be held accountable for their misconduct.

With the right legal team, these cases can be won.

If you or a loved one died or suffered a permanent life-threatening injury while in custody, call us. We don’t charge for consultations. We and our partner lawyers take cases throughout the United States. Call us at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online today as there are strict time limits for filing a civil rights or other lawsuit related to an in custody injury or wrongful death.


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