An autopsy report commissioned by Craig Prescott's family says the 38-year-old former sheriff's deputy died from a lack of oxygen to the brain during a struggle with jailers in April while in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Prescott's family on Friday provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Bee. The independent autopsy was conducted April 15 by Dr. David Posey of Glenoaks Pathology Medical Group in Southern California.
Marilyn Prescott, Craig Prescott's mother, said she believes jail officials subdued her son in a manner that suffocated him, so they are responsible for his death.
"He was deprived of oxygen, so he couldn't breathe," she said Friday. "It just saddens me to read this report, because now I know this was an egregious act."
The Stanislaus County coroner's office conducted its own autopsy a day after Prescott's death and released a report of its findings in early June. Pathologist Dr. Eugene Carpenter performed the autopsy under contract with the coroner's office.
Sheriff Adam Christianson has said jail officials followed departmental guidelines in trying to restrain and move Prescott. Christianson declined Friday to comment about the independent autopsy report.
"At this point, this case is going to be litigated, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on somebody else's autopsy when I don't know who they are or their competency," Christianson said. "I absolutely stand by our deputy sheriffs."
In early October, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said the jail officials were not responsible for Prescott's death. He died in a Modesto hospital two days after deputies at the jail used Tasers and pepper spray to subdue him when he acted out in their custody.
Fladager's report culminated a six-month inquiry into whether jail deputies acted criminally April 11 in subduing Prescott. She determined they did not, citing a coroner's report that said Prescott died of hypertensive heart disease and determined his death was accidental.
Posey's independent autopsy concluded a different cause of death. He noted the contradiction in his report.
"Mr. Prescott's heart disease was stable, and he did not have a 'heart attack' and cardiopulmonary arrest as a direct sequela (or consequence) of the altercation as purported by the first examiner's cause of death," Posey wrote.
Prescott died from irreversible damage to the brain caused by sudden respiratory failure during the altercation with officials at the downtown Modesto jail, Posey wrote.
He said Friday that the coroner's conclusion that Prescott's heart disease was the cause of his death doesn't add up.
Had heart disease been the underlying cause of his sudden loss of consciousness, Posey said, there would have been no pulse or respiration and the resuscitative efforts at the jail and the hospital wouldn't have been successful.
As Prescott's restraints were being removed in the safety cell, Posey said, jail officials found he was not breathing, but he had a faint pulse.
He said Prescott's heart had the reserve capacity to sustain an independent cardiac rhythm until his death at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.
"... With a very high degree of medical certainty his heart would not have responded to resuscitation," Posey wrote in his report.
He said a person cannot go without oxygen for five minutes or more without causing severe brain damage. Prescott stopped breathing when the ventilators at the hospital were removed, because the cardiorespiratory center in the brain no longer was functioning.
Also, Posey concluded there was no clear evidence that indicated the Tasers contributed to Prescott's unresponsiveness or his death.
The independent autopsy was conducted at a Modesto funeral home when Prescott's body was released to his family, a day after the county conducted its own autopsy.
Posey's findings were based on his autopsy, results from a neurological examination of Prescott's brain and a toxicology report.
He said he compared his findings to the coroner's autopsy report, Prescott's medical records, a report from the emergency medical technicians who treated him and the report from the district attorney about the investigation.
No ruling on circumstances
He said he had enough evidence to determine the cause of the death after ruling out other possible causes.
Posey, however, did not have enough information to determine how Prescott died. He said he expects those questions to be answered through the deposition process should the family seek civil litigation against the Sheriff's Department.
"Only the people who were there know the truth," Posey said. "There is just so much we don't know right now."
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. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Marilyn Prescott said her son was suffering a deep depression after he lost his job as a deputy.
He supervised inmates at the 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.
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, Rachel Prescott. She said the family was hoping to get him some mental health treatment after he started exhibiting disturbing behavior.
After reading Posey's autopsy report, Rachel Prescott said she was not surprised. She said it didn't make sense to her that heart disease caused her husband's death when he was a member of a Modesto fitness club where he played racquetball regularly and participated in other exercise programs.
While she feels Posey's report sheds some light on her husband's death, she's still in the dark about what happened during the jail struggle.
"The first report did not ring true at all," she said about the coroner's report. "But I still don't know what took place behind those walls."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.