Civil Rights Suit Filed by Estate of Inmate Who Died of Dehydration

Civil Rights Suit Filed by Estate of Inmate Who Died of Dehydration

Terrill Thomas, 38, died a particularly terrible death in the Milwaukee County Jail on April 24, 2016. Thomas, who was bipolar, was suffering a mental health incident when corrections officers placed him in an isolation cell. They then allegedly shut off the water to the cell, and Thomas died a week later from dehydration.

Thomas allegedly tried to flood the first cell in which he was placed by stopping up the toilet. That cell was located in the jail’s special needs unit, where he was sent because of his bipolar disorder.

The isolation cell did not contain a bed, but did contain a toilet. However, after the water was shut off, flushing the toilet was not possible. Although Thomas received “food” – in the form of a brick of Nutraloaf – he was not given anything to drink with his meals.

Although other inmates told guards Thomas needed assistance, they were apparently ignored, and Thomas was in no condition to advocate for himself. He was found dead on the floor of his cell, not only dehydrated but having lost 35 pounds in approximately eight days’ incarceration.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Thomas’ death a homicide.

Arrested After Shooting

Thomas was arrested on April 15, 2016, in connection with a shooting at the local Potawatomi Hotel and Casino. Thomas allegedly fired his gun into the air several times at the casino, told people to “get down,” said there were snakes all over and placed poker chips into his pockets.

When police came, he threw his gun into a trash can and then lay down while he was arrested.  He was charged with reckless endangerment and felony firearms violations. Those charges were dismissed after he died.

The Inquest

Nearly a year after Thomas’ death, an inquest was held as to whether jail staff who did not help him should face criminal charges.

The assistant district attorney referred to a surveillance video which showed three corrections officers cutting off the water supply in the cell, and never turning it on again.

However, none of the corrections officers documented the lack of water to the cell or let supervisors know of their actions, so other corrections officers had no idea that Thomas was without water.

"This order to shut off Mr. Thomas' water was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail," according to the assistant district attorney. There is no policy at the jail about turning off an inmate’s water supply for any extended period.

The jail staff did know that Thomas was bipolar and unable to properly communicate his needs. In the week in which Thomas was stuck in his isolation cell without water, approximately 20 corrections officers were working in the vicinity.

While inmates in solitary confinement are supposed to be taken out of their cells for a one-hour daily recreation period, this apparently did not happen during the time Thomas was in isolation.

After the six-day inquest, jurors recommended criminal charges against seven Milwaukee County Jail employees. These employees included Nancy Evans, the former jail administrator, and Lt. Kashka Meadors, who ordered the water shut off in Thomas’ cell, and the corrections officers who carried out those orders.

The jury recommendations are just that – recommendations. To date, no criminal charges have been filed against any of the seven employees.

A Civil Rights Lawsuit

Now Thomas’ estate has filed a civil rights lawsuit, naming 29 defendants, including Milwaukee County and Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., who was in charge of the jail.

The defendants include “eight jail supervisors, 14 correctional officers, Armor Correctional Health Services, and a doctor and three nurses who worked for Armor at the jail,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Clarke abruptly resigned as sheriff on August 31, and was reportedly under consideration for a job in the Trump administration. He appears regularly on Fox News.

Clarke has remained mum on Thomas’ death, except for telling Fox 6 News, “I have nearly 1,000 inmates. I don’t know all their names, but is this the guy who was in custody for shooting up the Potawatomi casino, causing one man to be hit by gunfire. The media never reports that in stories about him. If that is him, then at least I know who you are talking about.”

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, legal fees and damages for Thomas’ physical and mental pain. The exact amount of damages sought was not specified in the lawsuit.

Are you or a family member a victim of jail personnel - police misconduct? Our experienced lawyers and investigative team can find out what really happened and hold the culprits accountable by means of a civil rights wrongful death lawsuit. Learn your rights in a confidential no-cost legal consult.  866.836.4684 or Connect Online.

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