State News

NC settles with psychology manager fired after inmate's dehydration death

Posted May 21, 2015

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— A prison psychology manager initially fired after a mentally ill inmate died of thirst last year returned to work this month with a 10 percent raise.

State Department of Public Safety officials had already reversed course on their decision to fire John Monguillot, who oversaw psychologists at western region prisons before he was dismissed in September for "unacceptable personal conduct." In December, prison leaders demoted him instead to a lower management position at a prison in Marion.

But Monguillot challenged that demotion.

In late April, the state decided to settle after promising to fully reinstate him, transfer him to Forsyth Correctional Center with a new title and award him back pay and attorney's feeds. He'll also receive a higher salary of $103,165 as part of a 10 percent "reallocation increase."

State personnel records show all other prison psychological services coordinators received a 9 percent raise in March.

The mental health manager was one of 25 people who resigned or were disciplined after an investigation into the death of Michael Anthony Kerr on March 12, 2014.

 One year later, inmate's death looms over state prison mental health debate

Kerr, an Army veteran 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.

More than a year later, no criminal charges have been filed in Kerr's death, although the case is now before a federal grand jury.

Several employees disciplined in the wake of the incident have appealed their firings, and Monguillot marks the second who was allowed back on the job back as a result.

Michael Byrne, Monguillot's attorney, said that, while he wished the agency had handled the disciplinary process better, he was glad to see the issue resolved and his client back at work. He declined to comment further.

State agencies are limited by law in what they can publicly release about disciplinary actions, but DPS leaders in the past have defended their decisions in the wake of Kerr's death. The department declined to comment about the settlement.

As a regional manager for mental health, Monguillot didn't deal with Kerr directly.

But in the letter changing Monguillot's dismissal to a demotion in December, prisons Commissioner David Guice wrote that the disciplinary action was linked to his hiring of Christine Butler, Kerr's psychologist while at Alexander.

Butler resigned in April 2014 amid the investigation into Kerr's death.

Agency leaders said Monguillot hired Butler despite her 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.

The settlement agreement signed last month notes that Monguillot's demotion will be replaced in his personnel file with a written warning that will remain for 18 months. After that, his record will be effectively wiped clean.

Read the settlement agreement

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