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Answers about death at jail won't come soon

Family photo courtesy of Rachel Prescott
In the photo are Craig Prescott, Rachel Prescott, and their children Analeyna,
Ranelle, Talaya, Chalyn, Mariah and Yvana.
Family photo courtesy of Rachel Prescott In the photo are Craig Prescott, Rachel Prescott, and their children Analeyna, Ranelle, Talaya, Chalyn, Mariah and Yvana. Unknown

The results of an investigation into the death of a former sheriff's deputy who died after jailers subdued him with Tasers and pepper spray won't be available any time soon.

A spokesman for the Stanislaus County district attorney's office said there is no deadline for its inquiry into the death of Craig Prescott, 38, of Modesto, who was in custody because police suspected him of making threats against his wife.

A spokesman for the Sheriff's Department said an autopsy was completed but the cause of death won't be known until criminalists get the results of toxicology tests, tissue samples and blood work. The process could take four to six weeks, or longer.

"It's going to be a while for toxicology," said deputy Royjindar Singh.

Prescott was arrested April 7 on suspicion of stalking and making threats against his estranged wife, who had a restraining order and custody of their six children, according to court records.

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

Family friend Pam Cleland of Modesto said she had a disturbing conversation with Craig Prescott on April 3, then warned Rachel Prescott that her husband appeared to be suicidal, because he suggested that Judgment Day would coincide with his April 7 birthday.

Cleland said the police checked on Craig Prescott, who was living at his uncle's house west of Modesto, but determined that he was not a threat to himself or others. That's the standard that must be met before a person can be involuntarily detained at Doctors Behavioral Health Center.

Four days later, Craig Prescott was under arrest and unable to post $250,000 bail. Four days after his arrest, he was on life support at Doctors Medical Center. He was declared dead Monday after doctors turned off machines that had kept him alive for three days.

"I don't know what happened in there," Cleland said, referring to an altercation before Craig Prescott's death. "It doesn't make any sense."

Craig Prescott was no stranger to the jail, because he worked as a custodial deputy for nine years, leaving in 2006 after authorities accused him of promising to supply tobacco to an inmate. Those charges were dismissed, according to court records.

An April 11 altercation in the downtown Modesto jail occurred as deputies tried to move Craig Prescott from the general population to a "safety cell," so he could be monitored more closely.

The authorities said Craig Prescott was a threat to himself and others, but they won't say what happened until the investigation is complete.

It was unclear whether a video of the incident would be available to investigators. Custodial deputies sometimes take video as they move inmates to safety cells, Singh said, but he was not sure if the incident involving Prescott was recorded.

The deployment of Tasers — stun guns that are used by more than 13,400 law enforcement agencies worldwide — also may be part of the district attorney's investigation, as they are the subject of complaints from human rights groups.

50,000 volts of electricity

Tasers resemble handguns and shoot darts that deliver 50,000 volts of electricity.

They are viewed as a less lethal option than batons or firearms, but Amnesty International has called for stricter guidelines in their use, because 351 people have died in the United States after being shocked by Tasers in the past eight years.

Most of the people who died went into cardiac arrest shortly after being shocked. Some had taken drugs, were mentally ill or had underlying health problems such as heart disease, but others were healthy adults.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Justice are studying the issue.

According to a preliminary report issued in October, in-custody deaths often involve offenders who are in a state of "excited delirium," where a person suffering from psychosis or drug intoxication is agitated and violent and has an elevated body temperature.

Jailers must intervene, the report said, because people in this state are at risk of sudden death if their temperature rises to a lethal level. Tasers are not the direct cause of death in such cases, the report said, but they may increase the risk of sudden death.

Cleland said Craig Prescott was a kind man and devout Christian who worried his family because he would not seek counseling for mental health problems. Although she was not at the scene, Cleland said she wonders if Tasers were necessary.

"Craig is very easy to talk down," Cleland said. "If you spent the time, you could talk him down."

A memorial service for Craig Prescott will be held at 11 a.m. today at Calvary Chapel Modesto, at Pelandale and American avenues.

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

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