From The Guardian
A North Carolina inmate with mental illness who had been held in solitary confinement died of thirst, according to an autopsy report released Thursday.
Anthony Michael Kerr, 53, was found unresponsive in the back of a van on 12 March after being driven roughly three hours from Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville to a mental hospital at Central Prison in Raleigh.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety subsequently fired a captain and four nurses at Alexander. A nurse and a staff psychologist resigned.
At the time, Public Safety Secretary Frank L Perry pledged an “an aggressive, yet thorough internal investigation” into Kerr’s death. However, nearly nine months later the agency has not made public any results of that probe.
In the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office report, pathologist Dr Lauren Scott says a senior prison official allowed a “witnessed review” of an internal review into Kerr’s death, though the medical examiner’s office was not permitted to keep a copy. Scott wrote that the report left unanswered key details about the circumstances leading to Kerr’s death, including when the inmate last had access to food and water.
Because of the lack of information, the pathologist wrote that she was unable to make a determination about whether Kerr’s death should be classified as natural, accidental or homicide.
“Mr Kerr’s psychiatric history was significant for schizoaffective disorder for which he was not receiving any treatment at the time of his death,” Scott wrote. “It was not possible to make any firm conclusions regarding the inmate’s nutrition and fluid intake, and whether or not his mental health and/or external factors played a role in the dehydration.”
Scott noted abrasions on Kerr’s forearms were “consistent with restraint devices.”
Public Safety spokeswoman Pamela Walker said she could not immediately comment Thursday on the autopsy findings or the results of the agency’s investigation into Kerr’s death.
In an interview earlier this year, Kerr’s sister, Brenda Liles, told The Associated Press she had repeatedly called prison officials in the days before her brother’s death trying to get him help. She said her brother had been struggling with mental issues since two of his sons were shot to death in separate incidents in recent years.
Records show Kerr, whose criminal record includes several convictions for larceny, was sentenced in 2011 to serve 31 years as a habitual felon after being charged with illegally possessing and discharging a firearm.
North Carolina’s prison system has long faced criticism for its treatment of inmates with chronic mental illnesses.
In 1997, a federal audit of Central Prison prompted by the death of an inmate found he died from dehydration after being held in solitary confinement for four days. Water to the inmate’s cell had been cut off after he’d stopped up and repeatedly flushed his toilet to cause flooding.
In 2006, Alexander Correctional came under scrutiny after a report that prison staff there routinely used a nylon strap similar to a dog leash to tether inmates whom administrators considered dangerous.
Two years after that, Alexander inmate Timothy E Helms was left paralyzed after he said he was clubbed by correctional officers. Medical records indicated Helm’s skull had been smashed while being held in solitary confinement. A subsequent state investigation failed to determine precisely how Helms received his injuries, and prison officials denied any wrongdoing. Helms, who had been previously diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders, later died.