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State to pay $2.5M to family of inmate who died of thirst

Posted July 20, 2015

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— State officials will pay out a $2.5 million settlement to the family of a mentally ill prisoner who died of dehydration last year five days after he was left in handcuffs in solitary confinement.

Correctional officers found Michael Anthony Kerr dead on March 12, 2014, after transporting him from Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville to Central Prison in Raleigh.

An Army veteran who suffered from schizoaffective disorder that went untreated for at least six months, Kerr was serving a 31-year sentence at Alexander Correctional for firing a weapon at private property and repeated felony convictions. He had been held in solitary confinement for more than a month before his death.

 The final days of Michael Kerr

In the months that followed, 25 people resigned or were disciplined by Department of Public Safety in the case. But following appeals from several fired employees, judges have so far reversed two of those terminations and settled with three others, including Alexander Correctional's acting warden at the time.

Although the department's firing of a prison captain was upheld by a judge in December, he's now taken the case to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

While no charges have been filed, a federal investigation is ongoing.

DPS officials announced the settlement with Kerr's estate Monday afternoon. In a press release issued at 5 p.m., the department said insurance will pay $1.5 million of the $2.5 million.

Pam Walker, director of DPS Communications, referred all questions to the settlement agreement.

In the agreement, the administrator of Kerr's estate agrees to forgo any claims wrongful death and other civil action against the department for actions from Jan. 14, 2011, to March 12, 2014.

The payments "are not to be construed as an admission of liability," but the agreement does promise a letter of apology "from a high-ranking official" at DPS.

The release said the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice was committed to improving the treatment of those with mental illness, noting that 1,800 staff members had already received crisis-intervention training and that department leaders had requested more funding to improve mental health services.

11 Comments

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  • Belle Boyd Jul 21, 2015
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    Ehh, some people like retribution more than restitution.

  • Roy Hinkley Jul 21, 2015
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    Then I guess it's unfortunate the state took away his ability to pay his victims any kind of money.

  • Belle Boyd Jul 21, 2015
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    Actually no. Restitution is paying your victim back with money, work, etc. Prison sentences are considered retribution not restitution.

  • Jamie Patrick Jul 21, 2015
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    25 people resigned or disciplined.. but not one single medical doctor (MD). Fascinating.

  • Roy Hinkley Jul 21, 2015
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    Wasn't he doing so by serving a 31 year prison sentence?

  • Jim Buchanan Jul 21, 2015
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    Good point!

  • Richard Trantham Jul 21, 2015
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    I wonder if Kerr paid restitution to the people he shot at and terrorized? Just a thought,....

  • Linda Tally Jul 21, 2015
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    Instead of the insurance paying out half of the monies to the family, I'd MUCH prefer the prison personnel who let this happen be forced to pay it. Five days handcuffed in solitary confinement? Yep. Let the Central Prison officials pay the bill.

  • Norman Lewis Jul 21, 2015
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    Because the mentally ill advocates have been so successful, the State has it's hands tied as to how it deals with the mentally ill, (or those pretending to be for a SSI check when they get out). You can't force meds easily, you are not allowed to use adequate force to prevent self injury or to others, due to the "illness". If the staff at Alexander had intervened forcefully in this case to prevent injury, a parent or family member or the inmate himself, would have sued over the "mistreatment".

  • Susan West Jul 20, 2015
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    Letha, I imagine if I was the parent of this man I would quite possibly be so wracked with grief and terror - relieving his death over and over, that I might have some PTSD and other problems and not be able to work for a long time if every again. I'm sure this is probably where the money is going. The the parents or spouse of this man that are no longer able to work or pay into a retirement fund because they are broken from this experience.

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