The family of an inmate who died while in custody in April responded Thursday with disbelief and dismay over the detailed account of an altercation in the Stanislaus County Jail that preceded his death.
Craig Prescott, 38, was unresponsive and taken to a Modesto hospital after he became involved in a struggle with jailers who were trying to move him to a "safety cell." His conditioned deteriorated, and he died at Doctors Medical Center two days later.
His mother, Marilyn Prescott, said the jailers took it too far, and they should have tried talking down her son instead of using Tasers and a pepperball gun to get him under control.
"My son was mentally ill," she said. "What's their excuse?"
Craig Prescott's wife, Rachel, declined to comment Thursday because she was grieving the recent death of another family member, Marilyn Prescott said.
Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager on Wednesday released a detailed report of what happened during the altercation between Prescott and jailers on April 11.
Fladager determined jail officials did not act criminally in subduing Prescott at the downtown Modesto jail.
Steven Yourke, an Oakland-based attorney representing the Prescott family, said they plan to file a civil lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department, the sheriff's sergeant and seven deputies involved in the altercation and Stanislaus County within the next month.
"I think that's inevitable," Yourke said. "I think that's the only way we will arrive at the truth."
The county coroner's report states Prescott died of hypertensive heart disease and determined that his death was accidental.
Prescott's mother said they hired a pathologist to conduct an independent autopsy, and a report on those findings is near completion.
Yourke said the independent autopsy revealed Prescott died of hypoxemia, which is caused by deprivation of oxygen. "It's consistent with a bunch of deputies piling on top of him," the attorney said.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said his department and the district attorney's office repeatedly asked the Prescott family for the results of the independent autopsy, but never received it.
"I haven't seen the independent autopsy report, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time," Christianson said.
The sheriff said it also would not be appropriate to comment on any pending litigation. Christianson has said jail officials followed departmental guidelines in trying to restrain and move Prescott.
Yourke said the use of force to subdue Prescott was completely unreasonable and callous in dealing with an inmate suffering from a psychotic episode.
"He was obviously mentally ill, incapable of responding rationally to these demands," Yourke said. "Instead of treating him like a sick person, he was treated like a vicious criminal."
Bill Naber, a trial consultant based in Auburn, specializes in cases of inmates who die while in custody. He worked for 20 years — 13 as a jailer — at the sheriff's departments in Marin and Sonoma counties. He read the district attorney's report on the Prescott investigation posted on www.modbee.com.
"This is as clean as it gets," Naber said by phone Thursday night. "It was extremely thorough. It went beyond most of the reports from district attorneys I read."
He said it appeared that the district attorney's office conducted a thorough investigation in preparation for the expected lawsuit. Stanislaus County prosecutors have said the possibility of a lawsuit did not play a role during the investigation.
Naber said this is a classic case where an inmate should have been in a mental health facility, not a jail.
Nevertheless, there's plenty of supporting evidence, he said, that indicates the use of force was the only option left for jailers trying to restrain Prescott. He said Prescott's behavior led to his own death.
"They couldn't have just left him in the cell," Naber said. "He could've harmed himself."
Marilyn Prescott said her son was suffering a deep depression after he lost his job as a Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy.
He supervised inmates at the jail for nine years until he lost the job in April 2006 after authorities accused him of promising to supply tobacco to an inmate. Those charges were dismissed, according to court records.
Prescott's mother said the family was hoping to get him some mental health treatment after he started exhibiting disturbing behavior.
"But he never made any vicious threats against anyone," she said. "My son was a gentle man."
Prescott's brother, Mickey Prescott, also worked as a Stanislaus sheriff's deputy at the jail from 1995 to 2001. He said his brother was a good man, "not the caged animal they say he is."
He said the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office have not been forthright with his family since his brother was hospitalized after the struggle. He said he doesn't believe what was written in the district attorney's report.
"I just want justice to be served," Mickey Prescott said. "Not just my justice, but God's justice. I don't want this to happen to any other family."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.