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Coroner: Inmate died of natural causes in starving dispute

People wait to take a ride on light rail to mark the opening of the 6.6-mile extension of the new Metro Expo Line in Santa Monica, Calif., on Friday, May 20, 2016. For the first time since the 1950s, a Southern California light rail line will extend to the Pacific. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the ride from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica will take 48 minutes. That may hardly sound speedy for a 15-mile trip, but the nearly constant congestion of Interstate 10, the usual car route for the trip, can often take just as long or longer. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A coroner has revised the cause of death of a mentally ill California inmate, saying the man died of natural causes instead of a condition that resulted from a lack of nourishment.

Two pathologists initially found that 49-year-old Michael Stanley Galliher died in August from complications of inanition, defined as an exhausted condition resulting from lack of nourishment.

Records obtained by The Associated Press under a public records act request show Galliher was afraid to eat solid food at California Medical Facility in Vacaville because “he had delusions that his food was being poisoned.”

He had no food in his stomach, severely low blood sugar and other effects of fasting when he died.

Dr. Venus Azar, a pathologist, found earlier this month that his low blood sugar could have been caused by one of the drugs he was taking. The Solano County coroner’s office changed the manner of death to natural causes as a result.

Galliher’s mother Ann Marie Patrick of Alhambra said Friday that she believes her son died of neglect because prison officials should have discovered the problem before it killed him.

Attorneys representing sick and mentally ill inmates also said prison officials should have done more to prevent the death.

“We’re glad that the coroner agreed to review the findings of the original autopsy,” said Joyce Hayhoe, spokeswoman for the federal court-appointed official who controls medical care in California state prisons. “As we’ve stated previously, we did not agree with the conclusions from the original autopsy report.”

The records reflect a continuing dispute between prison guards and prison medical officials over whether Galliher was eating in the six days after he was transferred back to the prison from the state mental hospital in Atascadero.

Galliher, a schizophrenic, had been 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.

Dr. Joseph Bick, the prison’s chief medical executive, told investigators that Galliher was being given a liquid nutritional supplement because he was afraid to eat solid food. It was not documented whether he drank the supplement, and guards said he missed some of his meals.

“If he has an eating disorder he should be monitored for his eating,” said Michael Bien, an attorney who represents mentally ill California inmates. “If they weren’t monitoring for his eating then they weren’t doing their job.”

While a drug interaction could have caused Galliher’s low blood sugar, Bien said there is no evidence it actually did.

Steven Fama, who represents sick inmates, said the documents reinforce the serious concerns he has about whether Galliher received adequate care.

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