After reviewing the death of a mentally ill inmate who died of dehydration after lying for days in his own feces and urine, the Attorney General’s office concluded that the prison system’s negligence was so egregious that it could not be defended in court.
On Monday, the state of North Carolina agreed to a $2.5 million settlement with the estate of Michael Anthony Kerr, who died in March 2014 after spending two months in solitary confinement at Alexander Correctional Institution.
“A finding of liability is inevitable,” according to a May 6 memo by Special Deputy Attorney General Amar Majmundar. “Mr. Kerr’s death was the direct result of multiple, flagrant errors committed by various Alexander Correctional staff members.”
The memo, first reported by WRAL-TV of Raleigh, noted that Kerr had a well-established history of mental illness, including major depression after the murder of two of his sons. Kerr had been convicted of firing a gun into an occupied dwelling that he apparently believed was connected to the second murder.
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The memo suggests that prison officials deprived Kerr of his psychiatric medicine after he was placed in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure in January 2014.
“Upon that assignment, Mr. Kerr’s personal property was taken, including medication that had been prescribed to him for control of his mental illness,” Majmunder wrote. “Mr. Kerr’s behavior became increasingly bizarre and irregular.”
Christine Butler, the psychologist treating Kerr, concluded the inmate was faking his symptoms in an attempt to move to Central Prison.
“During this time, Mr. Kerr began to refuse meals and drinks, and would often chant and sing, while sitting in his own urine and feces,” the memo said. “Between March 7 and March 12, Mr. Kerr remained in his administrative segregation cell with his hands cuffed behind his back, and without any nutrition.”
On March 12, prison officials found Kerr unresponsive and incapable of movement. They drove him to Central Prison in Raleigh, a two and half hour drive, making no attempt to stop at any of the hospitals along the way. Kerr was cold to the touch and dead on arrival at Central Prison.
“This matter represents a worst case scenario,” with virtually no defenses to put before a jury, the memo stated. The case would worsen if Kerr’s estate sued individual employees: “in light of repeated, widespread and inflammatory failures on the part of various prison staff, treble punitive damages would likely be awarded.”
The memo said Kerr suffered significantly and recommended that the department pay $1 million, the maximum under state law. The rest was covered by insurance.