Justice Department to probe North Carolina inmate's dehydration death

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 03, 2014 3:20 PM

By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM N.C. (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into what happened to a mentally ill inmate in North Carolina who was found dead from dehydration after a prison transfer in March, grand jury subpoena records show.

Michael Anthony Kerr, 53, was unresponsive 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.

Subpoenas dated Wednesday said a probe of a suspected felony was being conducted and requested that details about Kerr's medical care, incarceration history and the van transport be supplied to a grand jury meeting from Oct. 14 to 16.

Kerr suffered from schizoaffective disorder that was not being treated and was housed in a solitary cell for disciplinary and administrative reasons during the 35 days before his death, according to state records.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pamela Walker said she had no comment on Friday about the federal investigation.

The agency said an internal investigation of the inmate's death had resulted in approximately 30 actions against employees, including nine dismissals, two demotions and two resignations among nursing, mental health and custody staff.

Other changes related to the handling of inmates with mental health issues are also being made, the department said.

“The tragedy of Michael Kerr’s death and what we have learned from it cause us to reemphasize our commitment to the most professional and humane treatment of all those in our care and control,” said department Secretary Frank Perry.

An autopsy report released last week said firm conclusions could not be made about Kerr's nutrition and fluid intake before his death. Due to the uncertainty about what led to his dehydration, the medical examiner classified the manner of death as "undetermined."

Kerr, designated a habitual felon by the courts, 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 Mohammad Zargham)