Latest jail death a suspected heart attack

Russell Hammer

By KAREN VELIE

It is suspected that 62-year-old San Luis Obispo County Jail inmate Russell Hammer died of a heart attack Monday afternoon.

Early in the morning, Hammer told a guard that he was feeling ill. While staffers were moving Hammer in a wheelchair to the medical unit, he lost consciousness.

Hammer suffered from health and memory issues, sources said.

On Nov. 6, Morro Bay police arrested Hammer after he allegedly stabbed his wife at a Morro Bay recreational vehicle park. Hammer’s wife survived the attack. The couple was visiting from Hanford.

Hammer was the third inmate to die in the SLO County Jail this year and the 12th inmate to die in a period of six years.

In July, The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $5 million to the family of Andrew Holland who died after jail guards left him strapped in a chair for more than 46 hours. The board also agreed to implement changes at the jail.

County employees, who requested anonymity because they fear retaliation, said that while mental services for inmates has improved since the Holland settlement, overall heath care services have declined.

In a jail medical staffing meeting on April 19, 2016, Public Health Director Penny Borenstein told jail medical staff that the county has not properly staffed medical personnel at the jail for a decade, according to the minutes of the meeting.

“We have not been fully staffed over the last 10 years,” Borenstein said. “The leadership team is working very hard to hire enough staff to cover all the shifts and fill the vacancies.”

In the last 30 days, two registered nurses and one med dispenser quit, leaving the county without sufficient medical staff to cover all shifts at the jail, sources said.