Ex-deputy's death at county jail in Modesto ruled accidental

Stanislaus County Jail officials were not responsible for the death of inmate Craig Prescott, who died in April two days after deputies used Tasers and pepper spray to subdue him when he acted out in their custody, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager announced Wednesday.

Fladager's report culminated a six-month inquiry into whether deputies acted criminally in subduing Prescott at the jail April 11. She determined they did not, citing a coroner's report that said Prescott died of hypertensive heart disease and determined his death was accidental.

Fladager's office further concluded that deputies used force in a legal manner to move Prescott into a "safety cell," an effort that escalated into a series of events that resulted in Prescott becoming brain-dead.

Prescott's family members have indicated they might file a civil lawsuit against the county because of his death and a lack of medical treatment they believe he received. His wife, Rachel Prescott, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"There was no criminal act," said Fladager, whose investigators reviewed medical records and conducted their own interviews for the report. "When anyone loses a loved one, it's a sad event; no matter the circumstances."

The results of the investigation are detailed in a 17-page letter from Fladager's office to the Sheriff's Department.

"The conclusion by the district attorney reaffirms what I have been saying all along," said Sheriff Adam Christianson. "Our deputies acted appropriately and professionally while attempting to care for Mr. Prescott."

Prescott, 38, was a former sheriff's deputy who once worked at the downtown Modesto jail. He was an imposing 256 pounds and an expert in martial arts whose size and strength prevented deputies from moving him easily when his behavior grew combative in the jail, according to Fladager's report.

He was booked at the jail April 7 on suspicion of stalking and making threats against his wife, who had a restraining order against him. She had custody of their six children and feared that he would harm them, according to the report.

Wife: Mental problems

Rachel Prescott has said she had her husband arrested because she wanted him to get help for mental health problems.

Shortly after he was booked, Prescott was seen by a jail doctor for a mental health assessment. He refused to take any medication.

Fladager's report gives a blow-by-blow account of the circumstances that left Prescott brain-dead:

A sergeant noticed Prescott began "speaking in tongues" and making noise when he visited Prescott's cell April 11. The sergeant reported the behavior to jail medical staff, and made an appointment for Prescott to be examined by a mental health official.

About 1:15 p.m., the sergeant discovered Prescott had tied a sheet around the bars of his cell, sealing the cell door closed. The sergeant asked Prescott to take the sheet down, but he refused and cursed at the officer.

Fladager said Prescott threw his own urine at the sergeant when he approached the cell. That's considered a felony charge of "gassing."

Other deputies arrived and attempted to remove the sheet on Prescott's cell door. He splashed them with his urine.

Jail officials decided to move Prescott to another cell that had a solid door to stop him from throwing liquids on the staff. The sergeant ordered Prescott to come to the door and "cuff up" so that he could be moved, but Prescott refused.

About 1:45 p.m., the sergeant and seven deputies started a "cell extraction," which is accomplished by a group of jail staff members to overcome resistance and minimize the risk of harm to staff and inmates. Prescott refused to comply with the extraction team and barricaded himself behind his mattress, cursing at the jailers.

A deputy fired a Taser at Prescott, but he continued to shield himself with the mattress. The jailers ordered Prescott to put down the mattress and lay on the ground, but he wouldn't comply and tried to remove the Taser probes by shifting the mattress in a downward motion against his leg.

A second deputy fired a pepperball gun at Prescott's leg when he exposed it in his attempt to remove the Taser probes. The pepperball releases pellets of pepper spray that irritate the skin to subdue a suspect.

That shot caused Prescott to expose his body, and another deputy fired a Taser at Prescott. It's not clear in the report whether that charge landed because Prescott hurled his mattress toward the probes and their wires.

A sergeant fired a Taser and struck Prescott's chest. Prescott dropped to his knees, positioning himself against the bed with his hands tucked under his upper body. He repeatedly was ordered to place his hands behind his back, but did not comply.

Jailers entered the cell to place Prescott into restraints, but he continued to resist. Once in restraints, he was carried out of the cell and placed on the floor. Jail medical staff treated Prescott for his pepperball wounds and removed the Taser probes as he continued to struggle.

Because of his "bizarre" behavior, jailers decided to move Prescott to a safety cell for observation. It was difficult for them to carry Prescott because of his size, so he was placed on a mattress to slide him into the safety cell.

Near the safety cell, the team stopped to let medical staff administer a shot of Ativan, a medication meant to calm Prescott. After allowing a few minutes for the medication to take effect, Prescott was slid into the safety cell.

Fladager said eight deputies remained with Prescott in the small cell. The jailers are not allowed to leave an inmate in restraints alone inside the cell.

The safety cell has a video camera without sound, and the video later was gathered as evidence. The district attorney said the video is grainy, jerky and most of the events are obscured because the deputies are in the cell with Prescott.

The deputies told investigators Prescott continued to kick and pull away from them. They cut off Prescott's boxer shorts and placed him in the corner of the cell. Two deputies tried to remove Prescott's leg restraints, but he kept trying to kick free and tried to pull his arms away. At one point, Prescott extended his legs, pushing the two deputies.

Another deputy placed his Taser directly on Prescott's buttocks. Several deputies placed Prescott's legs in a crossed position behind his buttocks to remove the restraints.

Once the leg restraints were removed, a deputy took off the cuff from Prescott's right wrist. As another deputy placed Prescott's left arm in a control-hold, Prescott's right arm went limp.

The deputies checked if Prescott was breathing and whether he had a pulse. Medical staff were called into the cell. Prescott had a weak pulse and was not breathing. It was about 1:55 p.m.

Jail staff began lifesaving procedures. Firefighters and ambulance medics arrived and took over. About 2:10 p.m., Prescott was taken to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.

At 11:20 a.m. April 13, Prescott was declared dead after doctors turned off life support machines.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.

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