While it’s easy to turn a blind eye to incidents that happen in prisons and jailhouses because the victims are usually criminals, it’s also important to remember that they are human beings. No matter what they’ve been incarcerated for, they deserve at least a reasonable degree of care, and any harm that does come to a prisoner under the watch of a guard should be seriously questioned.
Unfortunately, such cases are usually swept under the rug.
So, when 36-year-old Andrew Holland passed away in a California jail last January, his death did not attract much press. However, after footage of his final hours was released yesterday, many have come to see the true brutality of what happened to this man.
Stripped naked and sat in a chair, Holland – who had schizophrenia – spent the last two days of his life alone, without being able to move at all, and with very limited access to food and water. He was originally booked into the jail in September 2015 for battery, resisting an officer, and probation violations. Most of the time he spent incarcerated was in the isolated cell, though he was only strapped down on this occasion because he kept hitting himself.
Aware of the risks of restricting Hollan’s movements, medical staff entered the cell every one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours in order to rotate the man’s arms and legs in order to prevent blood clots from forming, and occasionally offer him a cup of water and some food.
Eventually, after spending 46 hours in the chair, Holland was moved into a different cell. He was left naked, with only a thin blanket to cover him. Just minutes after being moved, it is clear from the footage that the 36-year-old was struggling to breathe.
40 minutes after being let out of the chair, he was dead.
As Holland lost consciousness, several sheriff’s deputies watched on, occasionally laughing at the tragic scene before them.
When it became clear that the man was not moving, however, they entered the cell and called for help. CPR was administered until medical staff arrived, and, around ten minutes later, a fire crew took over in an attempt to save the man. Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful.
It was later established that Holland had died of a pulmonary embolism: a result of having been rendered immobile for such a long time.
A press release at the time claimed that the man “was found unconscious and unresponsive”, and that “at the time of his death, Holland was under the care of a physician.”
Wade Horton, the San Luis Obispo County Administrative Officer, described the footage as “extremely painful to watch.”
“What happened to Andrew Holland was a tragedy that impacts our entire community,” Horton told The Tribune in an email. “Although we can’t bring Andrew back, our county has made and continues to make changes in response to this terrible event.”
Holland’s mother, Sharon, made an emotional statement to press last year: “We had hope that his life would improve, but on January 22nd of this year, our son Andrew died a brutal and tortured death at the hands of the custodial staff at San Luis Obispo County jail.”
The family were awarded $5million for his death, and have said they will use the settlement money to establish a nonprofit to advocate for the rights of mentally ill people in the criminal justice system.