Five days after he was elected Pottawatomie County district attorney, David Hammer died today at age 47.
Hammer’s death was announced on Facebook by members of his family:
This is Ann and Ronny Jones along with David’s 5 children, Michael, Connor, Garrett, Devin and Samantha. It is with heavy heart that we announce that David Hammer passed away at 2:15 pm today. Details will follow when they are planned. Please keep our family in your prayers. Thank you.
Within two hours, the post had more than 200 comments and nearly 400 reactions. Early reports attributed the cause of death to a heart attack. Friends and acquaintances called the news shocking.
“He was an honest, honorable man,” Karen Byars, a criminal defense attorney who had known Hammer for about a decade, told NonDoc.
On Tuesday, Hammer received 58.16 percent of the vote in a three-way Republican primary for Pottawatomie County district attorney. In the election, Hammer defeated Tonya Roland (21.58 percent) and incumbent DA Allan Grubb (20.26 percent), both of whom spoke positively of Hammer by phone Sunday.
“My condolences and prayers are with his family,” Grubb said. “I would have never expected this to happen. I’m 47, he was still 47 getting ready to turn 48. (…) He was a family man who loved his children.”
Roland called Hammer “a great guy.”
“I’m shocked like most everybody probably is,” she said. “I got along great with David. Good work ethic. Just an honest, straight shooter when you’re dealing with him. So I have a lot of respect for David, and I’m just in shock.”
Hammer served as an assistant district attorney in Pottawatomie County from 2016 to 2018 before returning to his private practice, the Hammer Law Firm. In an interview with NonDoc before the June 28 election, Hammer said he resigned from his position in the Pottawatomie County District Attorney’s Office upon Grubb’s election in 2018. He worked in law enforcement and as a business owner prior to graduating from law school.
A gubernatorial appointment in January?
With no other candidates filing for the top prosecutor position covering Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties, Hammer was slated to succeed Grubb as district attorney after the turn of the calendar year. Because he died before taking office, however, questions immediately swirled about the process for finding a replacement.
Title 51, Section 10 of state statutes regarding vacancies in state offices appears to indicate that Gov. Kevin Stitt ultimately will appoint someone to fill the vacant position. However, because Grubb’s term runs through the end of the year, Stitt’s appointee would not assume the office until there is an official vacancy in January.
Grubb said that was his understanding, although he — and others interviewed for this article — said he was not certain about what would happen..
“My understanding is once there is a vacancy in the office, which won’t happen until Jan. 1 at midnight, then it will go to the governor to appoint somebody to fill the spot, and probably a special election after that would be my guess,” Grubb said. “I don’t really know. DA spots are kind of different than others.”
Roland also said she was unsure.
“I’ve heard either a special election or the governor appoints, but I’m trying to find that out myself because I really don’t know,” Roland said.
‘He recognized the humanity in people’
One thing Byars said she knew for certain is that Hammer “was perfect for the job” of district attorney.
“David Hammer was an incredibly wonderful man,” said Byars, who holds the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System contract for Pottawatomie County. “He worked for me when he was at OIDS, and he worked against me when he was in the district attorney’s office. We’d been good friends for a very long time.”
Like others, Byars said she was in shock Sunday and chose to compose her thoughts about Hammer and send them via text message:
He was the most loving father and son any child or mother could have had in their lives. That genuinely came from his heart, which he had in the practice of law as well. His dream to be the district attorney for Pottawatomie County was one long held. From his days on the police force, to his time as an assistant district attorney, to his days as a participating attorney for the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System. He recognized the humanity in people — the victims and their families, as he fought for justice, as well as the offenders, as he searched for why they offended and sought to help them in ways that would change their behavior. He was a courageous, honest, good trial lawyer. He was very well respected by judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and by those who did not participate in the criminal justice system. He was a good friend to many. All of us, who knew him, are devastated by his death. This is a loss not only to those of us who loved him, but to the citizens of this county and state.
Shawnee attorney Terry West said he did not know Hammer well but had come to support him for the district attorney position.
“He was really a great young man who was interested in the proper way to prosecute law breakers,” West said. “He has several kids, and that makes it even worse, of course.”
Rep. Dell Kerbs (R-Shawnee) offered similar sentiments.
“I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my good friend, David Hammer,” Kerbs said. “David was a great man and he was taken from us too soon. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. See you one day, brother. Rest in peace.”
(Update: This article was updated at 6:37 p.m. Sunday, July 3, to include a quote from Kerbs.)