While serving under former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke in 2016, three sheriff’s officials were responsible for the death of a mentally ill inmate who died from dehydration after they shut off the water to his cell for seven days. On Monday, they were charged with felonies related to the inmate’s death, while Clarke evaded charges despite the fact that more than a dozen people have died in Clarke’s jail under his tenure.
Arrested for shooting a man and later firing his gun inside a casino, Terrill Thomas, 38, was reportedly suffering from a mental breakdown when he shot the man who he believed had recently stolen his car. Aware that Thomas had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the staff at the Milwaukee County Jail placed him in solitary confinement after he used his bedding to flood his cell in the special needs unit.
In April 2016, surveillance video recorded three corrections officers shutting off the water to Thomas’ new jail cell before leaving him in solitary confinement. According to Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley, the officers never turned the water back on and failed to document the punishment or inform their supervisors of the unorthodox decision to cut off his water.
Benkley also noted that Thomas did not receive any water or any other beverages during his meals in solitary confinement. Officer DeCorie Smith later testified that inmates in solitary confinement only receive a beverage with their meals on Sunday while usually drinking water from the sink in their cell during the rest of the week.
Although Thomas’ fellow inmates assert that he had been begging for water in the days before his death, none of the officers claimed they received any requests from Thomas for water or medical attention despite the fact that he lost nearly 35lbs while in police custody and was suffering from a mental disorder. Eight days after entering the jail, Thomas was found dead in his cell on April 24, 2016.
According to the medical examiner, Thomas died of profound dehydration and his death was classified as a homicide. Last year, Thomas’ family filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the officers of torturing him while ignoring his pleas for help.
On Monday, Lt. Kashka Meadors and correctional officer James Ramsey-Guy were each charged with neglecting an inmate, a felony. Sheriff’s Maj. Nancy Evans was charged with felony misconduct in office and misdemeanor obstruction. Clarke, who oversaw the jail until his retirement last August, was not charged in the case.
According to prosecutors, Lt. Meadors issued the inhumane order to shut off the water in Thomas’ cell. Officer Ramsey-Guy reportedly followed the order and physically closed the pipes, which led to Thomas’ death several days later. Maj. Evans allegedly lied to investigators during an inquest into Thomas’s death last year.
According to a Journal Sentinel investigation from 2014, at least 10 people died in Clarke’s jail between 2008 and the end of 2013, with many of them left unattended while suffering from health problems. In 2016, at least four people died in the Milwaukee County Jail within a six-month period, including a newborn baby, who only survived long enough to begin breastfeeding when she died in her mother’s arms.
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