San Luis Obispo community members continue to protest in response to footage of the death of former San Luis Obispo County Jail inmate Andrew Holland.
Protesters interrupted and shut down a San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, according to the Tribune. About 15 protesters carried in a man on a stretcher who was mostly naked and labeled “I am Andrew Holland.” Other protesters held signs bearing slogans such as “Justice for Andrew” and “End Torture!”
Protesters, upset by the jail death of Andrew Holland, interrupt SLO Supervisor meeting pic.twitter.com/trDVruDvw9
— Joe Johnston (@SLOJoeJohnston) March 20, 2018
This demonstration was the latest in a string of protests against the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office and Jail after the Tribune published footage Friday that showed Holland was bound naked to a restraint chair for 46 hours prior to his death Feb. 22, 2017. The graphic footage shows that as Holland writhed on the floor, struggled to breathe and lost consciousness, deputies stood outside his cell and watched, occasionally laughing. After being released from his restraints, Holland survived about an hour before dying of a pulmonary embolism.
The Sheriff’s Office published a statement via Facebook Saturday that said Holland, who had a history of mental illness, was restrained because he had been repeatedly hitting himself on the head in solitary confinement, which he was kept in for most of his 15 months in jail. The release said the jail had repeatedly requested that Holland be transferred to San Luis Obispo County Adult Mental Health, but that Mental Health declined to take Holland in, and also declined to authorize sheriffs to forcibly medicate him.
After the footage was released, there was immediate backlash from the San Luis Obispo community.
Restraint chair protest March 17-19
On March 17-19 for 46 hours, the same length of time Holland was restrained, a coalition of activists led by SLO County Progressives took two-hour turns sitting in a restraint chair outside the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse downtown. The activists were protesting Holland’s mistreatment and death, raising awareness of mental health issues, and calling for the resignation of Sheriff Ian Parkinson, according to the Facebook event page. Participants wore a white helmet to mimic the one placed on Holland. Unlike Holland, protesters had access to clothes, a heater, food and company, and were restrained of their own volition.
“Without stimulus, without people to talk to, it would be painful,” environmental management and protection sophomore Austen Ford, who took a two-hour shift, said. “The 46 hours of it would be unfathomable.”
Cal Poly organizations supporting the event included Cal Poly Students for Quality Education, Cal Poly Queer Student Union, Cal Poly Democrats, Cal Poly Planned Parenthood Generation Action and Time’s Up: Cal Poly. The event also featured a number of speakers, including San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, Cal Poly ethnic studies junior Gianna Bissa and several of Holland’s family members.
Andrew Holland’s brother, Corban Holland, agreed that County Mental Health should have taken his brother in. He said that jail is not the right place for the mentally ill — that rehabilitation is the right place. He still blamed Andrew’s death on the sheriffs, and compared it to dropping off a child at daycare and not picking them up on time.
“If you decide to strap him to a chair, duct tape him, leave him there for 46 hours to pee and poop on himself, and then throw him in a room when you’re done, and when I get there he’s dead. Was that my responsibility?” Corban asked. “Yeah, I didn’t show up to pick him up. But guess what? He was under your care. You’re the one that killed him.”
Joshua Holland, Andrew’s cousin, talks about Andrew’s last 46 hours in prison:
Holland had been in jail for 15 months, Corban said, awaiting trial for hitting a police officer when he temporarily stopped taking his medication. He had been looking forward to trying a specialty diet designed to manage schizophrenia.
One of the last times his family saw him, Corban said, Andrew asked them to pray for the guards in the jail. Before he was in jail, Andrew would stop to give his clothing to the homeless and walk back home with little on his back.
His family and friends plan to paddle out on his birthday to spread his ashes. Andrew loved surfing. Corban said the two of them learned when they were teenagers.
“He was just a little guy, and he would be paddling out to these big waves,” Corban remembered. “Then he became the best surfer of all of us.”
Ongoing protests and investigation
SLO County Progressives is one of many local groups continuing to protest the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office and calling for justice for Andrew Holland. The group has posted a petition on their website calling on Parkinson to resign along with a number of other demands:
- That the positions of Coroner and Sheriff be separated;
- That the county hires a professional to run the jail;
- That there be an increase in citizen oversight;
- That San Luis Obispo County establish a dedicated psychiatric hospital.
These events also take place during a time in which the San Luis Obispo County Jail is under investigation by the FBI. The investigation, announced August 2017, is analyzing whether 11 inmate deaths involved civil rights violations. According to the Tribune, there have been 12 inmate deaths at the jail since 2012, three times the national average.