by Billy Ball
After five months of waiting, an autopsy report released Thursday blamed deceased N.C. inmate Michael Anthony Kerr's death on dehydration. However, the report says it's unclear whether Kerr was dehydrated because prison workers did not provide water or because he refused water, leaving his official manner of death "undetermined."
Kerr's sister Brenda Liles, said the report only strengthens her belief that the prison is to blame. "When you’ve got a man isolated, how can he get the water and the food if you don’t give it to him?" said Liles.
As reported in the Indy in April, Kerr—who had spent a month in solitary confinement—died March 12 while en route from a Taylorsville prison facility to Raleigh's Central Prison. Sources said Kerr, who had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, had been left untreated and covered in his own feces for days in Taylorsville.
The autopsy indicated Kerr was not being treated for his schizoaffective disorder, a disorder that combines the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia with a mood disorder. Family members, who have blamed the prison for his death, said Kerr was depressed. When he died, Kerr was being transported to Central Prison because it is the state prison system's primary medical and mental health facility for male inmates.
The report also noted a contusion on the right side of Kerr's forehead. After viewing his body, family members said it appeared Kerr had been beaten before his death.
Since the Indy's report, seven prison workers have been fired and another 20 disciplined. Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety, the State Bureau of Investigation and Disability Rights N.C. have all opened ongoing investigations into Kerr's death. No criminal charges have been filed yet against prison workers, although officials have not ruled out the possibility.
DPS Secretary Frank Perry told the Indy in May that there is a "preponderance" of evidence that prison workers acted inappropriately with Kerr.
Prison workers nationwide have been under scrutiny for their use of solitary confinement—which leaves an inmate isolated for 23 hours out of the day—on prisoners with mental illness, with many mental health experts arguing that the isolation may only exacerbate inmates' condition.
More on this as it develops.