Lawsuit filed in Stanislaus County jail death

The family of a former sheriff's deputy who died after a struggle with jailers at the Stanislaus County Jail last year filed a civil lawsuit against the county and its sheriff in federal court this week, seeking $10 million in damages.

On April 11, 2009, jailers used Tasers and pepper spray to subdue Craig Prescott, 38, of Modesto during an altercation as jailers tried to move him to a safety cell. Prescott was taken to a Modesto hospital, where he was pronounced dead two days later.

In October, a district attorney's office investigation found that the jail deputies were not responsible for Prescott's death. That report described a struggle during which deputies shot Prescott with Tasers multiple times and used a pepper-ball gun as well.

The Stanislaus County coroner's office determined Prescott died of hypertensive heart disease.

In November, Prescott's family released an independent autopsy that concluded deputies suffocated Prescott in their attempts to subdue him.

The family's civil lawsuit claims Sheriff Adam Christianson, the jail officials involved in the altercation and the county violated Prescott's civil rights and are responsible for his wrongful death.

Christianson has said jail officials followed department guidelines in trying to restrain and move Prescott. He did not return a phone call for comment about the civil lawsuit Wednesday evening.

The lawsuit also names California Forensic Medical Group Inc. as a defendant. It had provided health care for Stanislaus County jail inmates for more than 20 years until April 28, 2009, when the county Board of Supervisors approved a winning bid from Correct Care Solutions to provide inmate health care.

Oakland-based attorneys John Burris and Steven Yourke, representing Prescott's family, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Fresno. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Prescott's wife, Rachel Prescott, their children and his mother, Marilyn Prescott.

The lawsuit claims the defendants "acted with malice, oppression and deliberate and reckless disregard for Plaintiffs' civil rights and personal safety."

The lawsuit further alleges that jail personnel used excessive and unreasonable force against Prescott, and he was not provided with adequate medical and psychiatric care while he was in jail.

Prescott supervised inmates at the downtown Modesto jail for nine years until he was fired in April 2006 after authorities accused him of promising to supply tobacco to an inmate. Those charges were dismissed, according to court records.

Prescott was booked at the downtown Modesto jail April 7, 2009, on suspicion of stalking and making threats against his wife. She has said the family was hoping to get him mental health treatment after he started exhibiting disturbing behavior.

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