Mother Of Mentally Ill California Inmate Wants To Know Why He Was Allowed To Starve To Death

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – At 6-foot-1 and 172 pounds, Michael Stanley Galliher appeared healthy – until he dropped dead days after being transferred to a California prison from a state mental hospital.

A coroner found the 49-year-old Galliher essentially starved to death, setting off a flurry of accusations and finger-pointing. Galliher’s family and inmate advocates want an investigation. Prison officials say they did nothing wrong and state doctors dispute the coroner’s findings.

Galliher’s mother said her son’s schizophrenia made him paranoid to eat around others, and prison officials should have known that and not had him take meals with other inmates.

She has filed a wrongful death claim, saying prison officials didn’t adequately monitor her son to ensure he was eating properly.

“He’s in your custody, he’s mentally ill, it’s your duty and responsibility to take care of him,” said Ann Marie Patrick of Alhambra.

Galliher died at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville in August, six days after being transferred from the state mental hospital in Atascadero. He was in state custody for 25 years after being sentenced to life with the possibility of parole for second-degree murder in the 1989 shooting of his cousin.

The autopsy report, provided to The Associated Press after a public records request, found Galliher died from “complications of inanition,” defined as an exhausted condition resulting from lack of nourishment. He had no food in his stomach, severely low blood sugar and other effects of fasting, including a blood condition “commonly observed in starvation,” the report said.

Galliher “had not been eating, and likely was not taking his medications,” wrote Deputy Coroner Corey McLean, summarizing a phone call with Lt. Felix Hopper, who runs the prison’s investigative services unit.

Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas saying officials didn’t have any indication that Galliher was on a hunger strike or not eating.

Prison doctors did their own comprehensive death review that contradicted the coroner’s ruling, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver who oversees the prison medical system. She would not say what they think killed Galliher, citing patient privacy laws.

Hayhoe said in a statement that prison guards gave the coroner’s office inaccurate information. The coroner did not talk to medical workers and relied on a 2-year-old medical history that did not reflect Galliher’s current condition, it added.

The pathologist who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Venus Azar, stands by her finding, said Solano County sheriff’s Capt. Brad DeWall. A second pathologist brought in to review the case preliminarily came to the same conclusion, he said.

Galliher cycled in and out of the state mental hospital, going there whenever his mental health deteriorated in prison, his mother said. Once stabilized, he’d be transferred back to prison. Before his death, Galliher had been in the psychiatric hospital for nearly two years.

Patrick said her son’s aversion to eating around others was a decades-long hallmark of his paranoia. In the months before he killed his cousin, he would refuse to eat unless his grandmother, with whom he was living, put towels over the windows, Patrick said.

During visits at the state mental hospital, she would buy her son food from vending machines. He would take a bite, but cover his mouth so no one could see.

Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ken August said in an email that he couldn’t discuss specific cases or even confirm that Galliher had been their patient. However, he said a patient’s treatment team typically provides the receiving agency with recommended continuing care plans, including an alert section pointing out any critical issues.

Michael Bien, one of the attorneys representing sick and mentally ill inmates in two class-action lawsuits against the state, is calling for an investigation.

“You don’t expect a patient to die when they’re discharged from a hospital,” Bien said. “You want to find out, was something missed in the handoff?”

Galliher’s mother is still stinging after learning of his death in a phone call she made to wish him a happy birthday and was told he died two months earlier. Prison officials had notified her ex-husband, but the message never reached her.

“I think he died of neglect,” Patrick said.

 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

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