The state of North Carolina has reached a settlement with the estate of an inmate, formerly of Sampson County, who died at the hands of prison officials in March 2014.
According to The Associated Press, the N.C. Department of Public Safety issued a statement Monday saying its Division of Adult Corrections has reached a $2.5 million settlement with the estate of Michael Anthony Kerr, a man with a mental illness who died of thirst after being held in solitary confinement for 35 days.
Brenda Liles, Kerr’s sister who lives in Ivanhoe, spoke with The Sampson Independent in September, expressing her anger and disgust with the results of Kerr’s autopsy.
Reports from The Associated Press show the autopsy determined Kerr died of dehydration on March 12, 2014. Kerr, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was not receiving treatment for the mental illness at the time of his death.
Those records further indicated that the 54-year-old inmate was twice cited for violations by prison staff for flooding his cell weeks before his death. According to The Associated Press report, Kerr was found unresponsive in the back of a prison van after being driven three hours from the Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville to a mental hospital at Central Prison in Raleigh.
Liles, who spoke to reporters with The Sampson Independent in April 2014 about the anger she felt over what she called unfair and inhumane treatment by prison officials, reiterated that anger during an interview with the local newspaper last September.
“The prison is responsible for my brother’s death. They’ve got blood all over their hands. I don’t know that I believe what they say is in that report, but if it is true, the prison is still responsible,” she stated then. “Inmates are supposed to get three meals a day; they are supposed to get water. They aren’t supposed to be starved and deprived of water. If that autopsy is right, then that’s what they did to my brother.”
Liles said it was a Raleigh newspaper reporter who alerted her to the autopsy results, which she said were never conveyed to her through the state or prison system. During an earlier interview, Liles also expressed her anger over the length of time it took the state to complete the autopsy.
According to previous reports from the AP, pathologist Dr. Lauren Scott noted in the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office report that 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, the earlier AP story noted.
The pathologist also noted abrasions on Kerr’s forearms were “consistent with restraint devices” in the report.
Following his death, the N.C. Department of Public Safety reported firing a captain and four nurses at Alexander. Another nurse and a staff psychologist resigned.
Kerr had been held in solitary confinement prior to his transfer. 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.
Some of the information in this article was provided by The Associated Press.