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'Justice is served.' Andrew Holland Foundation gets treatment for former SLO County resident

Tribune - 3/26/2020

Mar. 26--The nonprofit foundation named in honor of a Atascadero man who died in the San Luis Obispo County Jail scored its first legal victory when it secured the transfer of a mentally ill former county resident from state prison to Atascadero State Hospital for treatment.

In February, lawyers for the Andrew Holland Foundation -- with the help of the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office and various county officials -- won a re-sentencing order from a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge for Montoya Nichols.

Nichols, 29, has spent the better part of the last 12 years behind bars for violent outbursts related to his mental illness committed while in custody.

Most recently, Nichols had spent almost three years of a seven-year sentence at Folsom State Prison for a handful of felony assaults on county jail, and later, prison staffers.

His attorney, Paula Canny, has represented inmates suffering from mental illness caught in the criminal justice system and their families -- including the Holland family. She argued in court that Nichols' will be better treated in a psychiatric setting.

Nichols is one of two seriously mentally ill inmates to have their criminal cases taken over by Canny with financial support by the Holland Foundation.

"Since the age of 15, and for the last 12 years, Mr. Nichols has been behind bars due to the tragic circumstances surrounding his mental illness," a news release from the nonprofit reads.

In 2014, while being treated at Atascadero State Hospital, a then-23-year-old Nichols allegedly assaulted another patient and a hospital police officer, according to Tribune archives. He was transferred to San Luis Obispo County Jail for that offense, and in 2015, was again charged for allegedly "'gassing' a county jail staffer with urine, according to SLO New Times.

For that and other similar offenses, Nichols pleaded no contest to several felonies in 2016 and was sentenced to prison a year later. His mother told The Tribune at the time that Nichols was heavily medicated and sedated during court proceedings and was not able to participate in his defense.

Nichols soon found himself in trouble again at Folsom state prison in Sacramento.

In December, Canny filed a request in Superior Court to have a judge reconsider his plea.

In February, Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy and prosecutors agreed to find Nichols not guilty of the charges by reason of insanity.

According to his court advocates, Nichols remains in treatment at ASH. The California Department of State Hospitals is not permitted to comment on current or former patients due to medical privacy laws.

The Foundation in its news release cited the involvement of Duffy, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow and deputy district attorney Kristy Imel for helping facilitate the positive outcome.

"Mr. Nichols' case is a good example of how working collaboratively can result in positive benefits for San Luis Obispo County," the foundation said in the release. "The community is served when justice is served."

The foundation also cited county counsel Rita Neal for her efforts in Nichols' case, as well as the county jail's chief medical officer, Christy Mulkerin, for her ongoing partnership with the foundation to treat inmates in local custody.

The Andrew Holland Foundation was formed by Sharon and Carty Holland of Atascadero, the parents of the 36-year-old Andrew, who suffered from schizophrenia and spent years in prison and San Luis Obispo County Jail for low-level offenses directly caused by his lack of mental health treatment.

After Andrew Holland died of a blood clot in San Luis Obispo County Jail custody in January 2017 after being strapped to a plastic restraint chair for more than 46 straight hours, his parents were awarded a $5 million settlement from the county.

The Hollands used portions of that money to form the foundation whose mission is "to advocate for those living with severe mental illness by working with families, law enforcement, the courts, lawmakers, county leaders, and mental health-serving community partners to promote comprehensive and humane treatment programs and environments leading to a successful reintegration into the community."

To learn more about the Andrew Holland Foundation, visit andrewhollandfoundation.org.

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