Mentally ill North Carolina prisoner died of dehydration during transfer

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2014 5:53 PM

By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM N.C. (Reuters) - A mentally ill North Carolina inmate died from dehydration during a prison transfer last spring, according to an autopsy report released on Thursday about an incident that led to several prison employees losing their jobs.

Michael Anthony Kerr, 53, was found unresponsive in March after being transported about three hours by van from a corrections facility in the western part of the state to the Central Prison in Raleigh for medical attention.

The state's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Kerr suffered from schizoaffective disorder that was not being treated.

But firm conclusions could not be made about the prisoner's nutrition and fluid intake before his death, and whether his mental health played a role in his dehydration, the report said.

Prison officials allowed a review of an internal report on Kerr's death but did not permit the medical examiner's office to retain the document and did not provide other investigative reports for review, according to the autopsy findings.

"The nature of his dehydration, whether as a result of fluids being withheld, or the decedent's refusal of fluids, or other possible factors, is unclear," the autopsy report said.

Spokesmen for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety did not respond to a request for comment.

Due to the uncertainty about what led to Kerr's dehydration, the medical examiner said the manner of death was best classified as "undetermined."

A prison captain and four nurses were fired after Kerr died, and a psychologist and another nurse resigned, according to media reports.

Kerr had a lengthy criminal record and had been designated a habitual felon. He was serving a prison sentence of more than 31 years after being convicted in 2011 of charges that included discharging a firearm into occupied property.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Peter Cooney)