Dozens of students and community members joined Cal Poly Students for Quality Education (SQE) as they marched through downtown San Luis Obispo calling for County Sheriff Ian Parkinson’s resignation. The protest concluded SQE’s Week of Action, which centered around police negligence. 

The week of action was dedicated to commemorating the death of former Humboldt State University student David Josiah Lawson, who died on April 15, 2017.

Lawson, known as Josiah to friends and family, was accused of stealing a phone at a party and was fatally stabbed by another party-goer, according to KRCR. Witnesses described the event as racially motivated since Lawson was African-American.

According to SQE’s Facebook event, “rather than helping Josiah, the police focused on crowd control at the party,” and “were so negligent that Josiah ended up dying as soon as he arrived at the hospital.”

A Humboldt County judge determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute the murder suspect Kyle Zoellner, according to Humboldt State Now. Lawson’s murder case remains unsolved.

“Our goal was to educate people about the case, about Josiah, honoring him, trying to bring him justice,” ethnic studies senior and SQE President Gianna Bissa said.

Bissa said the protest against Sheriff Parkinson made the problem relevant to San Luis Obispo residents as well.

There have been 12 reported deaths that have occurred at the San Luis Obispo County Jail since 2012 when Parkinson became sheriff. Bissa said Parkinson is directly responsible.

“I wanted to tie it into something that might be relevant to SLO,” Bissa said. “[The deaths] got a lot of momentum and coverage and then it kind of dissipated after he was re-elected.”

“There are reports of [these deaths] online, of how people were begging for medical attention and then didn’t get it and then died,” Bissa said. “None of us out here think that it is safe at all to have Ian Parkinson in a position as sheriff when he is responsible for so many deaths.”

Bissa said SQE would like to see Sheriff Parkinson step down from his position of power.

“Give up your job, give it to someone who is more capable and actually cares about people’s lives,” Bissa said.

The San Luis Obispo County Jail has the sixth-highest inmate death rate in California. The most recent inmate death was reported on Sept. 1.

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