Mentally ill NC inmate dies of thirst after water denied during 35-day solitary confinement
Hands behind bars in prison or jail (Shutterstock)

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice are probing the death of a mentally ill inmate who died of thirst earlier this year after 35 days in solitary confinement.

An autopsy showed Michael Anthony Kerr died from dehydration March 12 and was receiving no treatment for his schizophrenia, reported WNCN-TV.

The 54-year-old Kerr, who was serving 31 years for larceny and assault after he was convicted as a habitual felon in 2011, had been cited twice in the weeks before he died for flooding his cell, according to records.

Prison staffers are permitted to turn of water to an inmate’s sink or toilet for the “misuse of plumbing facilities,” according to a written policy of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

David Guice, the state commissioner of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, told the Associated Press that water to Kerr’s cell "had not been turned off in the days immediately preceding his death."

But prison officials have so far refused to specify exactly when the water was cut off.

They also refused to say whether Kerr was chained in restraints or if he was too weak to walk in the days prior to his death.

The inmate was found unresponsive in the back of a prison van after he was driven three hours from Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville to a mental hospital at Central Prison in Raleigh.

Prison officials have said since Kerr’s death six months ago that they would investigate the events that led to his death, but no report has been issued and officials have not said when one would be.

A federal grand jury issued two subpoenas Wednesday seeking records on Kerr’s death from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Prison officials said Thursday that many changes had been made since Kerr died, and personnel actions have been taken against 30 employees – including 11 who were fired or resigned.

A new chief administrator was also assigned at the prison where Kerr was held.

Watch this news report posted online by WNCN-TV:

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