Family files claim vs. Stanislaus jail

The family of an Oklahoma man who died while in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail has submitted a claim against the county, alleging negligent jail officials are responsible for his death.

Alton Warren Ham, 45, died at the downtown Modesto jail Sept. 16 after jailers used a Taser to subdue him while he was being moved to another cell.

The family alleges the county and its jail employees were careless and used excessive force. The claim states "the County of Stanislaus and its employees did not adhere to the restrictions on the use of the Tasers and as a result thereof Alton Ham died."

The claim is a possible precursor to the family filing a lawsuit against the county, seeking damages. The claim was submitted Dec. 2 by Modesto attorney Mark Nelson on behalf of Ham's family.

Nelson did not return a phone call to comment for this story.

The claim was referred to the county's risk management division, which has six months to negotiate a settlement with the family or reject the claim.

The county has not made a determination on the claim, said Ed Fenton of the risk management division.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson has said Tasers have proved to be nonlethal weapons used successfully by law enforcement agencies across the country.

He also has said downtown jailers follow specific department guidelines in using Tasers.

An autopsy showed that Ham had an enlarged heart, but coroner officials are awaiting toxicology results before they can determine the cause of Ham's death, Christianson said Wednesday.

He said sheriff's detectives will then complete their investigation and submit the case to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office for review, a routine procedure in the investigation of an inmate's death.

Ham's death was the second time this year an inmate at the downtown jail died after jailers used a Taser to subdue them.

On April 11, jailers used Tasers and pepper spray to subdue Craig Prescott, 38, of Modesto, during an altercation with jailers as they tried to move him to a safety cell. Prescott was taken to a Modesto hospital, where he was pronounced dead two days later.

In early October, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said the jail officials were not responsible for Prescott's death. Prescott's family said it plans to file a civil lawsuit against the county.

Specifics not given

Christianson said Ham's death and Prescott's death involved different circumstances. Sheriff's officials, however, have declined to release specific details about the struggle between Ham and the jailers including how long the altercation lasted, how many deputies were involved and how many deputies used a Taser.

Ham was arrested about 9:20 p.m. Sept. 15 on suspicion of a home invasion robbery after he broke into the home of an 84-year-old woman in the 3000 block of Euclid Avenue in Hughson, according to sheriff's Capt. Tim Beck.

Beck said Ham ransacked the home while the woman was inside. She was not harmed and went outside, where she met deputies dispatched to the scene.

Deputies went inside and found Ham, who had a 4-inch cut on his arm and was bleeding profusely. Beck said Ham suffered the cut while breaking the window.

Ham was taken into custody without further incident and transported to the jail.

About 2 p.m. Sept. 16, jail deputies decided to move Ham to a "safety cell" because he had "exhibited ir- rational behavior and was combative," according to sheriff's officials. Ham stood 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds.

As the deputies were moving Ham, "he started fighting," so the deputies used a Taser on Ham and then put him into the cell, sheriff's officials said.

Beck said the deputies and medical staff stayed with Ham in the cell until he became unresponsive. Medical staff tried to resuscitate him but were unsuccessful. Ham was pronounced dead at the jail at 2:38 p.m., Beck said.

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