Jail Death - Medical Neglect: California County Pays $5 Million to Victim’s Family

San Luis Obispo Tribune

On January 22, 2017, Andrew Holland died at the San Luis Obispo County Jail. In July, San Luis Obispo County officials agreed to settle the wrongful death case brought by his family for $5 million. Holland, 36, died in custody after spending almost two days in chair restraint.

Jail Death - Medical Neglect: California County Pays $5 Million to Victim’s Family

He had been held in the jail since 2015, on charges of public disturbance and resisting arrest. Even though he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his 20s and a judge had ordered psychiatric treatment for him 12 days prior to his passing, jail officials did not transfer him to the county facility, although beds were available. Instead, Holland spent the last 12 days of his life either in solitary confinement or tied to a chair.

Andrew Holland was the eighth person to die in the county jail since 2012.

The Autopsy Results

Autopsy results show Holland died of a pulmonary embolism related to deep vein thrombosis. The coroner found a five-centimeter long blood clot in Holland’s lung. The thrombosis resulted from his being left tied to the chair, immobile. Such embolisms usually originate from blood clots in the leg.

 Holland died 20 minutes after his release from the chair. His death was originally ruled as arising from natural causes, but his family soon disputed that finding. The county sheriff’s office stated that Holland was under monitoring at the time of his death in a glass observation cell.

In an email, the Holland family attorney wrote,

Calling Andrew Holland’s death ‘natural’ is like saying drowning is a natural death even though the decedent was held under water by another person. The manner of death is homicide, not natural causes.”

The Restraint

Since Holland entered the jail in September, 2015, he was transferred to the county’s mental health facility several times, but always sent back to the jail. He was found mentally incompetent to stand trial while in the mental health facility. He was supposedly competent when returned to jail.

On January 20, Holland was in solitary confinement when deputies observed him punching himself in the face. He was then placed, naked, in a Pro-Straint Restraint Chair in the observational cell. Staff at the pod’s central console could see him from their location.

The restraint chair has seven points, which restrain a person’s arms, legs and body. The coroner’s report states that Holland refused offers of water and food on various occasions. No reason was given as to why he was left in the chair for 46 hours.

The county policy states that keeping inmates restrained for a long period of time requires approval of the facility manager, while state law requires that if an inmate cannot “safely” have restraints removed within eight hours, they need further evaluation from a medical facility. 

Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Holland’s seated position, dehydration and his self-injury may have all contributed to his death, and “the formation of the intrapulmonary embolism was a natural response in the body.” The wrongful death lawsuit alleged the jail staff used the restraint chair as a “substitute for treatment.”

According to a local newspaper, The Tribune, “Andrew Holland suffered from a well-known and well-documented mental illness. Placing a mentally ill person in a restraint chair for 46 hours is dangerous and cruel.”

Holland’s Obituary

While sad, obituaries are also supposed to celebrate the life of the deceased. In an odd way, Holland’s obituary did just that.

Having been the subject of many dreary, depressing tales and texts from family and friends for the last nineteen years, Andrew Holland is finally happy to say that from now on, the news is only good. In one fell swoop, this most courageous, compassionate, entertaining and greatly loved son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson and friend has managed to beat schizophrenia, drug abuse, alcoholism, and skip out on almost a year left of his two-year jail term in isolation for acting like a miscreant while off his meds (again),” it read.

His family, who announced they were starting a foundation with the settlement money, appear to have had no illusions about Andrew. They knew he battled demons, but they also knew he did not deserve to die the way he did.