State

Jailed ex-deputy dies after Stanislaus County jail struggle

Rachel Prescott hoped an arrest would help her estranged husband get the mental health care he needed.

Instead, six days after he was arrested on suspicion of stalking and booked at the Stanislaus County jail, where he previously worked as a custodial deputy, Craig Prescott is dead.

His family doesn't understand why. And the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department won't say what happened until its investigation is complete.

What is clear is that Prescott and jailers had a physical confrontation sometime Saturday. Sheriff Adam Christianson acknowledged that it took two Tasers to subdue Prescott.

Rachel Prescott said no one from the Sheriff's Department called to tell her that the father of her six daughters had been hurt. She said she heard from friends who have contacts in the jail that he was on life support at Doctors Medical Center.

She and other family members converged on the hospital Saturday, desperate for information about a man they still loved, despite his troubling outbursts in recent months. After lengthy negotiations with jailers, Rachel Prescott and her mother-in-law got a 10-minute visit in the intensive care unit.

After that, the authorities reportedly told the family they would get no more visits, and no more information, unless Craig Prescott were close to death. Monday, a prosecutor persuaded a judge to dismiss the criminal charges that sent Prescott to jail because he was brain-dead.

Tuesday, the family insisted that they still are out of the loop.

"The Sheriff's Department has not offered one explanation as to why my husband died," Rachel Prescott said as she recounted a sequence of events that began with Craig Prescott's arrest April 7 and ended when he was taken off life support Monday night.

Family members got to Craig Prescott's bedside in time to see hospital staff turn off the machines that were keeping him alive, but his wife said she had no chance to weigh in on that decision or discuss the possibility of donating his organs.

Struggle apparently ensued

Although she has no official explanation about a jailhouse incident that sent Craig Prescott, 38, to the hospital, Rachel Prescott pieced together information from acquaintances who have connections to the jail, where her husband worked for nine years before leaving in 2006.

She thinks custodial deputies tried to subdue her husband -- who was 5 feet 9 inches tall and 250 pounds -- during a violent outburst, so they could transport him to a padded cell.

She heard that her husband stopped breathing during a struggle in which deputies deployed the Tasers as well as pepper spray.

And she said she won't rest until she gets answers, even if it takes a lawsuit and an independent investigation.

"He definitely died in the jail, at the hand of fellow deputies," said Rachel Prescott, who is consulting with an attorney.

Christianson recounted a similar story, saying supervisors and a medical team were on hand when deputies deployed Tasers to control an unruly defendant who had been charged with stalking and making threats against his wife and children.

The sheriff said his employees broke with the usual protocols when they let Prescott's wife and mother sit by his bedside, because they were sensitive to the family's needs.

The sheriff also listed a series of rules that govern such situations.

As a rule, the jail does not notify loved ones when an inmate is on his or her deathbed, although the hospital may call the family of an inmate if it needs information about a patient's medical history, he said.

Jailers leave medical decisions, such as turning off a life support system, to the doctors, he said.

Organ donation is not an option if an autopsy is needed to determine the cause of death, he said.

And it's up to the coroner to notify next of kin if an inmate dies, he said.

Christianson said the family can get the results of an in-custody death investigation, being conducted by the district attorney's office, when it is complete. "Our intent was to protect him," Christianson said.

Deputy District Attorney Nate Baker said he assumed Craig Prescott's criminal case would end with a short stay in jail and a requirement that he attend counseling and take medications as required.

He noted that Rachel Prescott cooperated with authorities who arrested her husband because she wanted him to get help.

"It's a tragedy, because the family did everything right," he said.

Husband in need of help

Rachel Prescott recalled scary encounters with her husband, saying he had become preoccupied with Judgment Day and was detained at Doctors Behavioral Health Center for a week in late January, where he was stunned with a Taser after he destroyed a bed that had been bolted to the floor.

She said he slipped into a British accent in court during a hearing that ended with a judge granting Rachel Prescott's request for a restraining order meant to keep her husband at least 100 yards away.

She said she turned to the police because he refused to take medications his doctors recommended, because he did not think the voices in his head were a problem. Craig Prescott was arrested on his 38th birthday, and a judge raised his bail from $50,000 to $250,000 so he would be more likely to stay in custody and receive treatment.

Days later, Craig Prescott's death and the authorities' tight-lipped response have family members asking hard questions.

"He did not get the medical care he deserves in there," Rachel Prescott said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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