Terrill Thomas, the mentally ill man who died of “profound dehydration” in solitary confinement at Sheriff David Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail, spent seven days in a cell without any water after correction officers cut off his water supply, according to the prosecutors.
Opening the inquest – a rarely used legal proceeding that allows prosecutors to question witnesses under oath and in front of a jury before deciding if there's probable cause to charge anybody – the prosecutors’ statement validated the initial reports, where other inmates claimed Thomas begged for water for days leading up to his death.
“This order to shut off Mr. Thomas' water was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail,” said Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley, noting that surveillance videos showed three officers cutting off the water in Thomas’ cell, only to never turn it back on. He also claimed the supervisors and fellow corrections officers did not know about it since the officers involved allegedly never documented the water cutoff.
He also added the victim did not receive water or any drink along with his food as jail policies direct inmates to drink water directly from their sinks – something Thomas was unable to do.
“He was a pretrial detainee in a mental health crisis. Instead of providing him with desperately needed treatment, the Milwaukee County Jail disciplined Terrill by locking him in an isolation cell, giving him inedible ‘nutraloaf’ to eat, and shutting off his drinking water supply for seven days – causing him to suffer and die from profound dehydration,” commented Erik J. Heipt, an attorney for Thomas’ family. “Nothing like this should ever happen in an American jail.”
He also noted it has now been a year since Thomas’ “senseless” death.
“I am pleased that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office taking this atrocity seriously and hope that the inquest is the first step toward justice for Terrill and his family,” Heipt added.
It is unclear if the jail officials will be charged for neglect or abuse of power – or anything, really.
On April 24, a mentally ill man named Terrill Thomas was found dead in a cell of the Milwaukee County Jail. Although his death was labeled as homicide, a medical examination carried out by the Milwaukee County has revealed that the 38-year-old died as a result of “profound dehydration.”
Thomas died only nine days after his arrest in connection with a casino shooting. Apparently, in the days preceding his death, the man had flooded his prison cell, after which the water supply to him was blocked. Inmates reported hearing him begging for water and help for days.
Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., a top law enforcement officer who happens to be a strong Donald Trump supporter and a critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, runs the jail.
Inmates reported that Clarke purposely deprived Thomas of water and they even told a guard: “If something happens to that man, it’s your fault.”
Attorney Erik J. Heipt is representing Thomas’ family in the case.
“They may well have had reason to turn off the water. There absolutely could be reasons why you’d want to turn off someone’s water in their cell. But to then not give them drinking water? That’s crazy. To make a human being die of thirst, where they have no ability to get their own water for survival, that’s pretty inhumane. It doesn’t get much worse than that,” he said.
Heipt pointed to another lawsuit involving a 25-year-old man who died of dehydration and malnutrition in a Island County Jail in Washington state. That case settled for $4 million last year.
Ever since Sandra Bland's death on July 13, 2015, at least 810 people have lost their lives in jail. A large number of them even go unnoticed, sometimes even unrecorded and it is about time this brutality ends.
Information that has surfaced during the case has revealed that Clarke received a $40,000 trip to Israel and Russia, made around $26,000 in speaking fees and locked up $22,500 in car services that shuttled him to various media appearances. He also took a plane flight valued at $9,000 to speak at an Idaho conference and even scored playoff basketball tickets from the Milwaukee Bucks' GM.
The sherriff’s office has refused to comment on Thomas’ death until investigations and civil lawsuits are settled.