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Mental health manager back on job after inmate death

Posted December 16, 2014

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— State officials have reversed course on their decision to fire a prison psychology manager following the dehydration death of a mentally ill inmate in March.

John Monguillot oversaw psychologists at prisons in the western region of North Carolina before he was dismissed for "unacceptable personal conduct" in September. In a letter Dec. 11, Commissioner of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice David Guice opted instead to demote Monguillot to a lower management position at a prison in Marion.

Monguillot was one of about 30 people who resigned or were disciplined after an investigation into the death of Michael Anthony Kerr on March 12.

Kerr, who suffered from schizoaffective disorder that went untreated for at least six months, was left handcuffed for five days in isolated confinement at Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville, where he was serving a 31-year sentence for firing a weapon at private property and repeated felony convictions. When he was moved to Central Prison in Raleigh, corrections officials found Kerr dead in the back of a transfer van. The state medical examiner attributed his death to dehydration.

According to the Dec. 11 letter, Monguillot's original dismissal was linked to his hiring and management of Christine Butler, Kerr's psychologist while at Alexander. Butler resigned in April amid the investigation into Kerr's death.

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That investigation, Guice wrote, showed Kerr's treatment was related to a statement Butler made to corrections officers that the inmate was "malingering," or faking his condition.

The letter explains that Monguillot hired Butler despite two criminal convictions for animal abandonment in 2011 and a 2005 reprimand from the North Carolina Psychology Board over a licensing issue. In both cases, Guice wrote, Monguillot did not tell his superiors about the potential hire's issues.

The prison chief also criticized Monguillot for failing to discipline Butler for looking up her own record in the state's confidential offender tracking system while employed at the prison and for not disclosing any of this information to investigators following Kerr's death.

"Dr. Butler's actions, having been Kerr's psychologist, were crucial to the Alexander-Kerr investigation, and any knowledge you had concerning her employment and criminal history should have been shared with Prisons management since it could have directly impacted management's decisions with regard to, and analysis of, the situation," Guice wrote.

Calls to a number associated with Butler were not returned.

Like several other prison workers fired in the wake of Kerr's death, Monguillot appealed his initial termination through the state's grievance process. In the letter, Guice wrote that he could have dismissed Monguillot but considered "mitigating circumstances" in making the decision to demote him.

"As a person involved in the hiring and continued employment of Dr. Butler, you failed to exercise due care in both hiring and retaining Dr. Butler as an employee of the agency, and especially as a psychologist with direct patient care responsibilities for a vulnerable population of mentally disabled inmates," Guice wrote.

Despite being limited by law in what they can publicly release about disciplinary action, leaders at the state Department of Public Safety have defended their decisions in the wake of Kerr's death.

"I do believe the personnel actions that were taken were necessary. I do believe that they were very specific as it relates to whether someone didn't do something that they should have done or they did not follow policy or procedure," Guice said in a Dec. 11 interview. "They just totally failed to take appropriate action when it was necessary."

Monguillot's attorney, Michael C. Byrne, said the agency's action was unjustified and that his client is appealing the demotion, which was approved by the Office of State Human Resources. The initial dismissal never received that approval, and Byrne said reversals such as the one granted to Monguillot are rare. 

"[DPS] couldn't even get this past the governor's own personnel office," Byrne said.


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