Prince's Overdose Death Results in No Criminal Charges – New York Times

Prince’s Overdose Death Results in No Criminal Charges

Prince in Paris in 2009. In dealing with chronic hip pain, he apparently became addicted to painkillers and died of an overdose in 2016.CreditBertrand Guay/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Two years after the sudden death of Prince by accidental fentanyl overdose, one of the lingering mysteries surrounding the enigmatic musician concerned how and where he obtained the powerful synthetic opioid that killed him and whether anyone would be held responsible.

On Thursday, law enforcement authorities in Minnesota closed a major part of their investigation, announcing that no one would be criminally charged in the case.


Prince sold more than 100 million records, won seven Grammys and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Here’s a look at the lengthy career of the ambitious musician, who died at 57.Published OnApril 21, 2016

The Carver County attorney, Mark Metz, said in a news conference that Prince died after unknowingly taking counterfeit Vicodin that contained fentanyl, but that there was “no reliable evidence of how Prince obtained” the fatal drug.

“We have no direct evidence that a specific person provided the fentanyl to Prince,” he said, adding that the investigation uncovered “no sinister motive, intent or conspiracy to murder Prince.”

However, a Minnesota doctor, Michael Schulenberg, who had treated Prince twice not long before his death, has agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a federal civil violation for an illegal prescription, his lawyer, Amy Conners, said on Thursday. In a search warrant last year, investigators said that Dr. Schulenberg had told them he had prescribed an opiate painkiller to the singer in someone else’s name — Kirk Johnson, Prince’s longtime friend, bodyguard and sometime drummer — to protect Prince’s privacy.

[ALSO READ: How Prince Concealed His Addiction: Aspirin Bottles of Opiates]

Dr. Schulenberg admitted no liability as part of the settlement and has maintained he did not prescribe drugs to anyone with the intention they be redirected to Prince. His lawyer said in a statement that Dr. Schulenberg “is not a target in any criminal inquiry and there have been no allegations made by the government that Dr. Schulenberg had any role in Prince’s death.”

Mr. Metz said on Thursday that the pills prescribed by Dr. Schulenberg did not lead to Prince’s death.

Kirk Johnson, Prince’s longtime friend, bodyguard and sometime drummer, in 2016.CreditJeff Wheeler/Star Tribune, via Associated Press

“The bottom line is we simply do not have sufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime in relation to Prince’s death,” he said.

In addition to Dr. Schulenberg, investigators had focused on doctors and medical personnel who were attempting to treat Prince for an apparent painkiller addiction, as well as Mr. Johnson, an employee of the musician since the 1980s, according to court documents tied to the homicide investigation released last April.

Though Prince had been a strict proponent of sober living, friends said after his death that the singer had suffered from chronic hip pain that he was attempting to manage and perform through. After his death, “a sizable amount” of narcotics were found at his Paisley Park home and studio, where he died, according to search warrant documents. Among them were dozens of pills containing fentanyl, for which Prince did not have prescriptions, including some in aspirin bottles.

Prince, who was 57, was found dead in a Paisley Park elevator in Chanhassen, Minn., on April 21, 2016, by Mr. Johnson and others. A toxicology report, obtained by The Associated Press in March, found high concentrations of fentanyl in the singer’s stomach, liver and blood. Fentanyl is often used to manufacture counterfeit pills that are sold on the black market as oxycodone and other pain relievers.

Mr. Johnson’s lawyer, F. Clayton Tyler, has said that Mr. Johnson did not provide the drugs that caused Prince’s death. Mr. Johnson still works at Paisley Park as an estate manager, according to his LinkedIn profile. He has not been questioned since the initial interviews, Mr. Tyler said.

Notoriously private in life, Prince remained shrouded in secrecy after his unexpected death. Investigators said in court records that those who were present at the home that morning “provided inconsistent and, at times, contradictory statements.” The musician also left no will, leading to complex and ongoing proceedings among his six heirs.

There had been signs that Prince’s closest confidantes were concerned with his apparent addiction. Six days before his death, a chartered jet carrying the singer made an emergency stop in Moline, Ill., where Prince was treated with overdose medication. The incident prompted a friend of Prince’s to call on an opioid addiction specialist based in California, who put his son on a red-eye flight to Minneapolis with a drug used to curb opioid addiction that requires a special license to dispense.

Dr. Schulenberg, who had seen Mr. Johnson as a patient, had also seen Prince in the days leading up to the singer’s overdose.


Dr. Michael Schulenburg, who is paying $30,000 to settle a federal civil violation for an illegal prescription related to the case.

As part of the settlement, Dr. Schulenberg agreed to two years of “heightened compliance requirements for logging and reporting his prescriptions of controlled substances to the D.E.A.,” the United States Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis said in a statement.

“Doctors are trusted medical professionals and, in the midst of our opioid crisis, they must be part of the solution,” Greg Booker, the United States attorney for Minnesota, said in the statement. “As licensed professionals, doctors are held to a high level of accountability in their prescribing practices, especially when it comes to highly addictive painkillers.”

Ms. Conners, the doctor’s lawyer, said in a statement that Dr. Schulenberg never prescribed drugs to Prince in someone else’s name. “After he learned of Prince’s addiction, he immediately worked to refer Prince to a treatment facility and to transfer care to a chemical dependency specialist,” Ms. Conners said.

Dr. Schulenberg moved to a new job in a different suburb of Minneapolis soon after Prince’s death, and is still a doctor in good standing in Minnesota, according to state licensing board records.

Prince’s death coincided with a surge in fentanyl on the black market in Minnesota, officials have said, and the high-profile case helped heighten the level of concern about opioids there. In addition to requiring prescribers to use the Prescription Monitoring Program, legislators have recently pushed for a “penny-a-pill” tax on opioids to fund prevention and treatment programs.

Although fentanyl can be prescribed legally, frequently in the form of a patch, most fentanyl overdoses come from illegal versions of the drug bought on the street or on the “dark web” in pill form, said Ken Solek, an assistant special agent in charge of the Minneapolis office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Because it’s cheap to produce, the drug is often smuggled into the country and sold as pricier prescription pain pills.

“Most of it’s being ordered from China and dealers encapsulate it or press it into pills in a basement,” Mr. Solek said, adding that users may think they are buying pills such as Oxycodone, but in reality, they are 100 times stronger.

Recently, some of Prince’s family members have pushed for more definitive answers regarding his death, saying they are considering a wrongful-death lawsuit. Lawyers retained by the family gained access to medical examiner records, as well as investigative documents related to the emergency landing in Illinois.

Joe Coscarelli reported from New York and Sheila M. Eldred from Chaska, Minn.

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