Milwaukee County officials have agreed to pay nearly $7 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a mentally ill man in police custody who died of severe dehydration. The officers responsible for the inmate’s death were charged with neglect, misconduct, and obstruction.
In April 2016, Terrill Thomas was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and felony firearms violations after he allegedly shot a man in front of his residence and later fired a gun inside a casino. Thomas 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 stuffed his mattress into the toilet in order to flood his cell in the special needs unit. Lt. Kashka Meadors of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office was responsible for ordering Thomas to be moved to solitary confinement and ordered an officer to shut off the inmate’s access to water.
As ordered, Officer James Ramsey-Guy turned off the water to Thomas’ cell but never turned it back on, nor reported the incident to any other correctional officers. Thomas did not receive any water or any other beverages during his meals in solitary confinement.
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. In 2017, Thomas’ family filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the officers of torturing him while ignoring his pleas for help.
Meadors later pleaded no contest to abusing residents at the penal facility, while Ramsey-Guy reportedly pleaded no contest to obstruction. Former jail administrator Nancy Evans was sentenced to nine months in prison after failing to preserve key portions of the surveillance footage and failing to report the videos to investigators.
On Tuesday, Milwaukee officials publicly announced that they have agreed to pay $6.75 million to Thomas’ family in order to settle their wrongful death lawsuit. According to Erik Heipt, an attorney representing Thomas’ family, the settlement will be split among the decedent’s six children.
“This settlement reflects not only the profound harm suffered by Mr. Thomas and his family, but also the shocking nature of the defendants’ misconduct in shutting off this man’s water and ignoring his obvious signs of distress as he literally died of thirst,” said lawyers for Thomas in a joint statement.