The family of a man who stabbed his wife during a mental health crisis has filed claims against the City of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo County for the “horrible and inhumane treatment and the death of Russell Hammer.”
On Nov. 6, Russell Hammer’s wife Margo Benson-Hammer told Morro Bay police officers her husband suffered from physical and mental health issues and asked them not to arrest him. Officers then took Russell Hammer to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center where it was determined he was suffering from dementia and psychosis before they booked him into the San Luis Obispo County Jail.
In the claim, attorney Paula Canny wrote that the Morro Bay Police Department should have known that Russel Hammer, 62, was having a mental health crisis and that the jail was not an appropriate place to hold him.
At the jail, deputies placed Hammer in an isolation cell without providing his medications, the claim says.
Within 24 hours, Hammer decompensated to eating his own feces. Even though one of the guards had identified Hammer in a form as gravely disabled, the guards did nothing to help him, the claim says.
“Respondents continued to neglect, improperly house and ignore Russell Hammer’s medical needs,” the claim says.
On Nov. 27, 2017, Hammer died of a deep vein thrombosis after being brought to the jail’s medical facility.
“Respondents have a history and pattern and practice of putting mentally ill people in ‘safety’ cells, isolating and torturing them rather than providing them treatment,” the claim says.
According to the claim, the SLO County Sheriff’s Department was aware of the conditions and the problems at the jail because there had been 12 inmate deaths since Sheriff Ian Parkinson took office in 2011.
In 2017, the county paid a $5 million settlement to the family of one of the deceased men.
Following a CalCoastNews exclusive report on the alleged torture of Andrew Holland, an inmate who died after being strapped naked in a restraint chair for more than 46 hours, the FBI mounted an investigation into the 12 deaths, which is ongoing today.
Hammer’s widow seeks unspecified damages and an injunction ordering the county to provide all inmates adequate health and mental health care.