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Prosecutor: No criminal charges from Prince death probe

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Prince
Prince
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Updated: 6:35 p.m. | Posted 11:50 a.m.

Carver County Attorney Mark Metz said Thursday his office will not file criminal charges relating to Prince's death following a two-year investigation. 

Metz said Prince died from a counterfeit version of the painkiller Vicodin that was laced with fentanyl but that there was "no reliable evidence" to show how Prince got the pills or who may have played a role.

Because of that, Metz said Carver County could not file any criminal charges in the matter. "Prince did somehow come into possession of the pills, and the pills had to come from some source" but "we have no direct evidence that a specific person provided fentanyl to Prince."

There also will not be any federal criminal charges, a U.S. Attorney's Office spokesperson said in a statement.

"This was a joint federal, state and local investigation," the statement read. "... the U.S. Attorney's office, at this time, has not received credible evidence that would lead to any federal criminal charges. The office has no further comment."

The Carver County Sheriff's Office has released files from the case, including electronic evidence from the day Prince died. 

It includes video that apparently shows Prince laying dead in front of the door of an elevator at Paisley Park, as well as screenshots of text messages, audio of interviews and other evidence collected by investigators in the case.

Pill bottles found at the scene include prescriptions in his name.
Pill bottles found at the scene of Prince's death include prescriptions in his name for Clonidine and Diazepam.
Carver County Sheriff's Office

Six days before he died, Prince passed out on a plane from Atlanta heading back to the Twin Cities. An emergency stop was made in Moline, Ill. Prince had to be revived with two doses of Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

Metz said the evidence suggests that episode was triggered by one of the counterfeit Vicodin pills.

Metz also said there was no evidence that Prince knowingly ingested fentanyl and that "in all likelihood, Prince had no idea he was taking a counterfeit pill that could kill him."

The music icon was found unresponsive on April 21, 2016, in an elevator at Paisley Park — his home and studio complex. He was 57 years old.

Six weeks later, an autopsy would reveal that Prince died of "fentanyl toxicity," and that the synthetic opioid painkiller, 50 times more powerful than heroin, was self-administered. The Midwest Medical Examiner's office ruled it an accident.

On Thursday, Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg, who was accused of illegally prescribing narcotics Prince before his death, agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a federal civil violation.

Included in the photos released today are shots of shots of Prince’s vault.
Included in the photos released today are shots of Prince's vault.
Carver County Sheriff's Office

In a letter released Thursday, authorities said Schulenberg was not the target of a criminal investigation. 

In a statement, Schulenberg's attorney said the doctor settled with the federal government to avoid the expense and "unknown outcome of litigation. Dr. Schulenberg affirms his previous statement that he did not prescribe opiates to any patient with the intention that they be given to Prince."

In laying out details of the findings Thursday, Metz painted a scene of pills and pill bottles orbiting Prince's home and workspaces as the pop superstar struggled to deal with the chronic pain that had troubled him for years.

Metz said there were large numbers of pill bottles and a "significant number" of prescription pills that were not in their original pharmacy bottles but that ended up in Bayer and Alleve containers. 

Two weeks before Prince's death, Metz said that Schulenberg met and examined Prince at the request of Prince's assistant Kirk Johnson, who said Prince had been complaining of numbness and tingling in his hands and legs and vomited the night before. Metz said Schulenberg provided Prince vitamin D and an anti-nausea medication in Johnson's name to protect the singer's privacy.

On April 14, Johnson called Schulenberg seeking pain medication for Prince saying that he'd said his hip was bothering him. Metz said Schulenberg agreed since he'd recently examined Prince. He prescribed 15 pills of Percocet and agreed to put them in Johnson's name to protect Prince's privacy.

Metz said that police located 10 of those 15 pills in a suitcase at Paisley Park and emphasized that Prince did not die from the prescribed Percocet.

Still, the county attorney noted that in the days before Prince's death, the singer had been worried about side effects from opioids and had asked his doctor about opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

On April 20, Prince told Schulenberg he felt antsy and was wondering if he was having an opioid withdrawal. Metz said Schulenberg took a blood sample and wrote a prescription for Clonidine, a blood pressure medication that has been used for opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

The doctor talked to Prince's staff about getting the singer into treatment. Prince's management contacted a California recovery center and the process to help the singer had begun.

According to Metz, Schulenberg agreed to meet Johnson the next day to drop off the test results and medical records, but when he arrived at Paisley Park, emergency personnel were on the scene. Prince was dead.

Johnson's attorney, F. Clayton Tyler, released a statement saying Johnson was relieved that no charges had been filed against him.

"He continues to deny that he had anything to do with the death of his close friend, Prince. Prince's death was a tragedy that few could experience more deeply than Kirk Johnson," the statement read.

Host Mike Edgerly spoke with Dr. Charles Reznikoff and attorney Susan Gaertner about these developments.