Under the Dome

Bill would require that medical examiners in NC receive prison death reports

When a state inmate died of dehydration last year, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy was hampered because prison officials refused to turn over internal records on the incident.

A bill filed Wednesday in the General Assembly would require the state Department of Public Safety to turn over all such records in the future. It would also require the State Bureau of Investigation to turn over to medical examiners any reports it does on prison inmate deaths.

House Bill 281 has three Democratic and one Republican primary sponsors, including House Minority Leader Larry Hall.

Michael Kerr, 53, died last year after spending five days handcuffed in a cell, off his mental health medicine, unresponsive and lying in feces and urine in Alexander Correctional Institution. He was driven 2½ hours to the prison hospital in Raleigh, where he was dead on arrival.

An autopsy showed that he died of dehydration. Pathologists typically rely on medical records, eyewitness accounts and other records to determine a cause of death.

In this case, the prison officials would only show the pathologist its internal report, but not provide a copy nor provide additional records. Later, an SBI agent had to get a court order to obtain those records.

The medical examiner was unable to determine if Kerr died of dehydration because fluids were withheld, or because he refused them or for some other reason.