Crime

Settlement reached in jail death of ex-Stanislaus deputy

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

A settlement has been reached in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Stanislaus County and its sheriff in the case of a former deputy who died after a struggle while being held at the Stanislaus County Jail nearly three years ago.

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

Documents filed March 7 in federal court in Fresno indicate that attorneys for Prescott's family and attorneys representing county officials have reached a settlement in the civil case.

The court documents also indicate the settlement is tentative until the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approves the deal.

It's unclear in the court documents how much money the county has agreed to pay Prescott's family. The wrongful death suit filed April 6, 2010, indicated the family was seeking $10 million in damages.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Prescott's wife, Rachel Prescott, their children and his mother, Marilyn Prescott.

Oakland attorney John Burris, representing Prescott's family, said Thursday he did not feel comfortable discussing the details of the settlement before county supervisors have decided whether to approve the deal. He said the settlement does not include a non-disclosure agreement.

"Once the Board of Supervisors reports on the settlement, I would be happy to discuss the settlement," Burris said.

It could be a few weeks before supervisors vote on the proposed deal.

Laws protecting children require that a judge review and approve terms of such settlements "to make sure they aren't financially taken advantage of," said County Counsel John Doering. County officials expect that to happen some time in April, after which supervisors would sign off on the deal.

"Until then, we're not at liberty to disclose anything," Doering said Thursday.

Prescott worked 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.

In October 2009, a Stanislaus County 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 also used a pepper-ball gun.

The coroner's office determined Prescott died of hypertensive heart disease. At the time of his death, Prescott was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 256 pounds, according to the coroner's report.

In November 2009, Prescott's family publicly released an independent autopsy that concluded deputies suffocated Prescott in their attempts to subdue him.

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

Christianson has said jail officials followed department guidelines in trying to restrain and move 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.

Marilyn Prescott said Thursday that Rachel Prescott was the family's representative in negotiations with attorneys, and that she would be happy with whatever agreement was made.

She declined to discuss the amount of the settlement. She said the lawsuit's ultimate purpose was for the county and the Sheriff's Department to accept responsibility for her son's death.

"Anything that they have offered, to me that's an admission of guilt," Marilyn Prescott said. "That's all we wanted was some acknowledgment of what happened."

She said she still does not believe the county coroner's ruling that her son died of heart disease.

Attorneys for Prescott's family have said the use of force to subdue Prescott was unreasonable and callous in dealing with an inmate suffering from a psychotic episode.

"He was mentally ill, and he was not aggressive," Marilyn Prescott said. "He died of a lack of oxygen."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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