The federal agency also called on the jail to make changes to address these constitutional violations
Sep 1, 2021
By Kaytlyn Leslie and Matt Fountain
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The San Luis Obispo County Jail violated the
rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate medical care and
subjecting some incarcerated people to excessive uses of force, the U.S.
Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
According to the Justice Department, a multi-year
investigation into the jail concluded "that there is reason to believe
that the practices at the jail violate the Eighth and 14th Amendments of
the Constitution, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act
"San Luis Obispo County violated the rights of prisoners in
its jail in several ways, including failing to provide adequate health
care and subjecting some prisoners to excessive force," acting U.S.
Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a news release. "Our office is
dedicated to defending the civil rights of everyone in this district,
including those behind bars."
The federal agency also called on the jail to make changes to address these constitutional violations.
The Justice Department investigation was launched in
October 2018 amid a series of inmate deaths, lawsuits and a FBI
investigation into alleged civil rights abuses of mentally and medically
ill County Jail inmates.
The FBI formally launched an investigation into the
county's treatment of jail inmates in May 2017 after receiving at least
one complaint related to the January 2017 death of Atascadero resident
Holland died while in custody at the County Jail after being bound naked in a restraint chair for 46 hours.
A Tribune review of County Jail tapes revealed that San
Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office deputies watched as the man writhed
on the floor, lost consciousness and later died.
In addition to ongoing costs to defend against several
lawsuits, San Luis Obispo County paid a $5 million settlement to
Holland's family in July 2017.
Holland's death prompted outrage throughout San Luis Obispo
County, and raised questions about treatment of mentally and medically
ill prisoners at the County Jail.
In its announcement Tuesday, the Justice Department
concluded that "there is reasonable cause to believe that the jail fails
to provide constitutionally adequate medical and mental health care to
prisoners, that the jail violates the constitutional rights of prisoners
with serious mental illness through its prolonged use of restrictive
housing and that the jail violates the constitutional rights of
prisoners through the use of excessive force."
The investigation also found that the jail "violated the
ADA by denying prisoners with mental health disabilities access to
services, programs and activities because of their disabilities,"
according to the release.
The Justice Department said it has provided the jail with
written notice of the supporting facts for these findings as well as the
"minimum remedial measures necessary to address them."
"Our Constitution guarantees that all people held in jails
and prisons across our country are treated humanely, and that includes
providing access to necessary medical and mental health care," Assistant
Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who is with the Justice Department's
Civil Rights Division, said in the release.
"After a comprehensive investigation, we found that the San
Luis Obispo County Jail harms the people it incarcerates by subjecting
them to excessive force and by failing to provide adequate medical and
mental health care," Clarke said. "The Justice Department hopes to
continue to work with the jail to resolve these systemic problems."
SLO County Sheriff's Office responds to DOJ report
Soon after the Justice Department report was released
Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office issued a news release saying that the San
Luis Obispo County agency "recognize(s) the issues and concerns brought
forth" in the report, but that it "fails to take into account the many
remedial measures undertaken by the Sheriff's Office" since the
investigation began in 2018.
According to the release, San Luis Obispo County was named a
Stepping Up Initiative "Innovator County" for its work reducing the
number of days people with serious mental illness are in jail custody.
The county also started a jail-based competency treatment
program to restore patients with serious mental illness to competency to
avoid long California Department of State Hospital wait times, the
In addition, San Luis Obispo County created the Behavioral
Health Unit and Kansas Max Housing Unit, which provide "dedicated space
to treat and house patients with special needs, including chronic
medical and mental health problems," and expanded its medical, mental
and dental health care for inmates under Wellpath, according to the
Meanwhile the county has initiated a Compliance Unit at the
jail, including a chief medical officer position, and increased
staffing, as well as implementing crisis intervention training for
According to the release, ADA improvements at the County Jail are also progressing as a result of a recent settlement.
Notably, the Sheriff's Office said that any allegations of
inappropriate force being used have been investigated by the
Professional Standards Unit and those that were proven true resulted in
"The Sheriff's Office has worked cooperatively with the
Department of Justice over the past three years to investigate
deficiencies and determine appropriate improvements to ensure our jail
facility is fully compliant with federal law," Sheriff Ian Parkinson
said in the release. "We are pleased with our progress so far and will
continue to work diligently to provide a safe and secure jail facility."