State Politics

NC reaches $2.5 million settlement with estate of inmate who died of thirst

The state of North Carolina has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the estate of Michael Anthony Kerr, a mentally ill inmate who died of dehydration in March 2014 after lying handcuffed in his own feces and urine for five days.

The Department of Public Safety released news of the settlement at 4:51 p.m. Monday, as state government was closing for the day.

Kerr, a former army sergeant and preacher, was incarcerated at Alexander Correctional Center. His family said Kerr’s mental health deteriorated after the murder of two of his sons. Kerr was convicted of shooting into an occupied dwelling.

Kerr went off his psychiatric medicine in the fall of 2013. Prison officials put Kerr into solitary confinement in February because of his disruptive behavior. In his cell, he sang loudly, kicked or banged on his door and flooded his cell.

According to prison records and letters from inmates, Kerr spent the last week of his life lethargic and unresponsive, lying in his own waste. On March 12, prison officials took him in a van to the mental hospital at Central Prison. They had to first cut off the handcuffs because the lock was crusted with feces. When the van arrived in Raleigh, Kerr was dead.

The department said $1.5 million will be paid by insurance.

In its news release Monday, the department said it was moving to improve the treatment of mentally ill inmates. The department has requested additional funds for mental health services and has begun training prison staff in crisis intervention training, which teaches officers how to appropriately manage mentally ill inmates and minimize the use of force.

The department disciplined 40 employees after Kerr’s death and fired nine. Five of the fired employees have succeeded in rescinding their dismissals.