Do you remember the 1973 film Walking Tall? Sheriff Buford Pusser singlehandedly cleaned up his corrupt Tennessee town. Man was that awesome!
That's the sort of film that leads kids to dream of growing up and becoming sheriff. You get to wear a spiffy uniform and cool utility belt, maybe ride a horse and wear a cowboy hat, and best of all, you're the good guy! You get to capture the bad guys and throw them in jail where they belong. Sounds amazing, right?
Well, reality is sometimes different than the dream, and right now is a rough time to be SLO County sheriff. People are calling for Ian Parkinson's resignation, the FBI is investigating his jail for possible civil rights violations due to 11 inmate deaths since he took office, and his coroner Dr. Gary Alan Walter is under fire for allegedly inaccurate reports, drunk driving on the way to an autopsy, and being on the precipice of having his medical license yanked by the state. Yikes!
How's department morale, Ian? I'm guessing it's lower than a snake's belly at a subterranean limbo contest.
On Aug. 22, during a SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, Parkinson admitted that his department bears responsibility in the Jan. 22 death of schizophrenic inmate Andrew Chaylon Holland, 36, who died of an embolism after being strapped in a restraint chair for 46 hours straight. The county already shelled out a $5 million settlement to Holland's family.
"We should have recognized the need for our policy to limit the time an inmate is placed in restraints," Parkinson said during the meeting. "We should have looked for forcing alternatives, and we did not."
Oh, and did I mention that the coroner ruled Holland's death was from natural causes? I'm no doctor, but even I know that sitting in the same position for almost two days straight can lead to circulation problems. And on top of that, why did it take an inmate's death for Parkinson to finally acknowledge his policies needed changing? Couldn't he see the restraint chair was being abused before this? He's on his second term!
Despite his lip service about how the county bears responsibility for Holland's death and his delineation of new policies designed to prevent such deaths, there's a real lack of Trumanesque "the buck stops here" leadership from him. He doesn't appear to be considering resignation, especially seeing how packed the supes' meeting was with his cheerleading supporters, whose praise of Parkinson didn't come close to offsetting the poignancy of Holland's family members pointing out that policies didn't kill Holland, people did, and so far no one has been disciplined. No one.
The Holland family is calling for the release of surveillance tapes of Holland's time in the restraint chair and his subsequent death, which they claim will prove Holland was mocked as he begged for help and was denied medical attention when he clearly needed it. These are chilling charges, if true, and the public certainly has a right to know.
And then we have Dr. Walter's fantastical claim that Holland died of natural causes. Walter's also the lucky coroner to record the first-ever case of someone dying of an LSD overdose! What a remarkable discovery!
Walter performed the autopsy on Baylee Gatlin, 20, a Ventura woman who died after attending Lightning in a Bottle in May, an annual music festival held at Lake San Antonio, concluding she died of acute lysergic acid diethylamide toxicity. Fat chance, said experts who spoke to the SLO Tribune (Nice story guys!), who claim the low level of LSD found in her system couldn't have killed her.
Of course, that doesn't mean she didn't die of a drug overdose; it just means that Walter is incompetent. So SLO County has continued to employ a coroner who was arrested for drunk driving on his way to work, who came to the conclusion that being restrained for 46 hours didn't contribute to an embolism, and who ruled that LSD killed a young woman, despite the fact that globally recognized hallucinogens expert Dr. David E. Nichols said in The Tribune's Aug. 18 article it's "not logical or reasonable to conclude" that Gatlin "is the first of 30 million people who have safely taken LSD to have died. It's not possible."
Meanwhile Sheriff's Office spokesman Tony "Spicey" Cipolla told The Trib, "The Sheriff's Office stands by our expert and his conclusion."
It must be hard saying stuff you don't believe. Maybe that should stop, eh? Maybe the Sheriff's Office should stop making excuses.
I'm sure being sheriff is difficult. It's an elected office, so you're part politician and part law enforcement officer, which to many means you're a liar and an asshole. You have to stick to a budget. You're stuck with an apparent lack of mental health services. Even SLO County Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm admitted to the supes that there was a lack of communication between the sheriff and his agency.
Yes, it's a tough job, but Parkinson ran for it and won, twice; it's a job he wanted. If Parkinson doesn't resign beforehand, the next race for sheriff will come in 2018, and there will be a new sheriff in town by January 2019. Let's hope he or she knows this isn't a movie. Δ
The Shredder isn't running for sheriff but does dream about playing one on TV. Send ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.