More allegations of abuse and neglect at the SLO County Jail

April 22, 2018

Russell and Margo Benson-Hammer

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.” [Cal Coast Times]

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.


This is heartbreaking. Torture is the right assessment. It is inhumane and criminal to torture the mentally ill. The SLO County ACLU has made SLO County prison reform their number one priority, and yet the ACLU headquarters in Los Angeles fails to take any action. Why?????

JB Bronson

Rukidding: I notice your focus on “Who is to blame?” If the Sheriff is not responsible for inmates that are truly mental health patients, then he is responsible for playing the game and taking in these people in instead of being effectively vocal with Department heads and the BOS to handle them correctly. Blaming after someone dies is not what we pay for.


The mental health issue is nothing new. It’s been an issue for sometime. As most people know when there is a problem the buck stops at the top which in this case is the BOS who control the purse strings. Like the head of Facebook, who took full responsibility, the BOS should do the same.


I do not believe it is possible to run a humane and medically supervised jail today.

Why? Because “officer safety” is the most important aspect of Law Enforcement. An officer must put his/her own safety above all else, all the time.

This and this alone creates a problem at the jail. A person with mental illness might be at risk, but physically restraining such a person, trying to calm them down, etc. is risky. It’s much more safe for officers to put them in a padded cell or in a restraint chair, which is what they do.

Of course, these inmates may very well need medication, but that’s not the officer’s responsibility! Their responsibilies are, in order of importance:

1. Stay safe. No work comp claims.

2. Provide evidence/testimony that will help gain a conviction

3. Fill out paperwork and everything else required to show that the officer “did their job.”

4. Contact medical agencies for help if needed.

If a mentally ill person becomes violent to himself or others, the jail staff must put their own safety first, the “safety” of the department second, reliable evidence that can help with a conviction 3rd…..and the safety of the inmate last.

This will get worse.

Jorge Estrada

Why did the hospital release this person? Are they trying to shed the liability?

JB Bronson

Ian. It’s time to step down. People are dying here.


Ian Parkisnson’s ego won’t let him step down


I would ask all of you what you would have done. Remember that Mental Health would not take him. The current law prevents medication unless ordered by the court. And in some case these people are extremely viloent and at times have super strength that at time takes several people to restrain them. So please provide your suggestions.


First, it’s not our responsibility to come up with answers, ort even suggestions, to a part of the Sheriff’s job, a job he is well paid for, it’s his! Second, who would listen to us anyway?! Try suggesting anything to the common megalomaniac cop and the best you’ll get is scoffed at, and with one in a leadership role elected by the community?!! You might get even more than that. If you want an example of that, with someone you respect, ask Karen Velie about her experience with questioning the authority of SLO County…

Having someone die in custody will happen, mentally ill or otherwise, but when you have someone die because those that are charged with his or her care skirts safeguards that are put in place that would greatly reduce that possibility you should be held accountable. That’s the point here! Putting people at a greater risk because you choose to make your job easier is the point here! Putting people at a greater risk because your supervisor condones your actions is the point here!

In my experience the mentally ill are all mistreated in a jail custody situation. No, not all by design, but by the necessity the jail environment demands. You’re right, custody staff are not trained to deal with this, they are trained to deal with those that are accused of a crime, some dangerous, some not so much, but, and this is the key here, they should all have the common sense and common decency to treat those that are obviously not in control of what they are doing differently and with a ton of compassion.

I think the bigger issue here is the state of mental health care, a part of social services that seam to bear the brunt of budget cuts with no forethought, let alone concern, with this type of bullchit! When you have the general public condoning those cuts, even demanding them, this bullchit is inevitable.


I do agree with your last paragraph and I too have stated that is where most of the blame should go. The Direstor of Mental Health abruptly “retired.” Although with a very large severance pay that is usually paid when the “retire” instead of getting fired. My concern is like in many cases people like to complain about something and at the same time have no alternative. It appears that you may have had some negative experiences with police in the past although because of what appear sto be your past you can see that it’s a mental health problem which is something that the Sheriff doesn’t control.


I’m sorry but I disagree with you on where the blame should be placed; mental health services are much more overburdened then the Sheriff’s Dept., and why is that? The voting population keeps putting people into office that say they want to make our country “great again” but ignore the needs of it’s most vulnerable. Tax cuts for the rich and corporations directly effect the revenue our government takes in, to offset this the first thing they do is penalize folks like these, our most vulnerable, by cutting the funds to programs that are intended to keep them out of situations just like this.

Take the time one day and take a drive to 784 High St., to the offices of Transitions Mental Health, ask if you can talk to an administrator and if you can, ask him or her their challenges in meeting the needs of those they serve with the cuts they’ve endured. If that peaks your interest then drive over to 2178 Johnson Ave., the offices of SLO Mental Health, and do the same. If that doesn’t dissuade you from going on then drive over to 1989 Vincent Dr., the offices SLO Mental Health Youth Services, and ask them. More than likely they’ll tell you that the funds that just one of them use to receive are now so low that in principle those funds are now shared by all. If nothing else maybe this will enlighten you to the real needs of that part of your community and maybe it will persuade you to get involved.

You can suggest, or demand, alternatives all you want but if there’s no money to pay for them they won’t get far.

This is exactly what some of your community wants though (as copperhead so aptly represents with his post about “bums” and how he’s just hopin’ they all die, and those that gave him or her their “thumbs up” bullchit), and it’s that type of overt apathetic ignorant intolerance that these folks are more likely to face then any form of compassion, let alone any real meaningful help.

I would address your contention that my negative experiences with LE has shaped my opinion, but not now; this ain’t about me, this is about the Andrew Hollands, Russell Benson-Hammer and the rest of those who couldn’t even survive their time in SLO County jail, before they were convicted of anything! They not only died either being abused or ignored but innocent as well, get that and you get my rage!


I think that you have correctly answered your concerns and put the blame on the Mental Health Department as I do too, along with the politicians like the BOS. You say that Mental Health is overburdened and you are correct, that is not the fault of the Sheriff. I would compare this to needing emergency care at a hospital who might say they are overburdened so they send you to an urgent care that is not equipped or qualified to care for you. Whose fault is it that your emergency was not attended too. I’s the Mental Health Department, politicians and the BOS fault for not funding the needs of all of the communities and at times just depositing them at the jail. I would throw in the Veterans Administration too for abandoning our Veterans, many who have mental health issues, and praise the current President for attempting to address that situation which is an entire situation in itself.


You missed it again! You keep investing in your opinion rather than facing the fact that ultimately the responsibility for the death of those we are speaking of is the Sheriff’s! Why? Because his staff either abused, ignored or skirted their responsibilities to these human beings to the point of their deaths! Period!

And you bring Trump into the conversation? Don’t even go there! Especially after his current budget just cut the programs we are speaking of, more deeply then they’ve ever been! He cut the Mental Health Services Block Grant by 23% and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health by over $600 million!

Going into your comparison with emergency rooms and urgent care facilities would be way to long to address. I would suggest if this has happened to you, or someone you know “against yours or their will”, then read up on EMTALA and after reading it you might see how I would find that hard to believe as to actually happening.

I’m not gonna go into the VA Administration as I have no direct experience with them as I’m not a veteran and really feel I don’t have the right to speak for them. I can tell you this though, the VA Secretary that Trump first appointed, David Shulkin, tried and almost succeeded in killing the Vet’s Housing Voucher Program that targets homeless Vet’s, it was only saved when Veteran Groups found out and raised hell.


Is SLOCJ county jail on it’s way to this level:

With Parkinson at the helm it appears it’s inevitable!