The children of an inmate who died of dehydration in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County Jail during the tenure of Sheriff David Clarke Jr. have been awarded a $6.75 million settlement, in what is reportedly one of the largest payouts in U.S. history for an in-custody death.
What are the details?
According to the original complaint, pretrial detainee Terrill Thomas, 38, died in April 2016 after spending a week deprived of water by jail employees despite pleas from himself and other inmates. He had been arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and felony firearms violations after opening fire in a casino, CNN reported, and was purportedly experiencing a mental health crisis.
Thomas was initially held in a special-needs unit for increased observation due to concerns over his mental health. There, he stuffed clothing and torn pieces of mattress into the toilet, causing it to overflow and flood the cell. As punishment, Thomas was transferred to solitary confinement, and all water sources to his cell were shut off.
Lt. Kashka Meadors of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office admitted during a 2017 inquest that she had ordered Thomas to be transferred, but that “it should have been the toilet water, just the toilet water” that was shut off.
Fellow inmates reported hearing Thomas beg for water for days, and asked corrections officers to turn it back on, but were repeatedly ignored. Several county employees and contracted medical professionals were named as defendants in the lawsuit for allegedly turning a blind eye to Thomas’s deteriorating condition and refusing to even bring him a drink.
Thomas was eventually discovered dead in his cell. An autopsy revealed he died from “profound dehydration” and his death was classified as a homicide.
The Terrill Thomas Estate sued 29 defendants over his death, including former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr., who oversaw the jail at the time and was accused by the family of “knowingly” sanctioning the practice of shutting off inmates’ water supplies.
Clarke — who is a prominent conservative pundit and previously had a radio show on TheBlaze — has since retired from law enforcement. He did not face any criminal charges and a judge dismissed the Thomas family’s claims against him with the settlement agreement.
CNN reported that three county officials have been sentenced to jail in connection with Thomas’s death.
Attorney Erik Heipt, who represented the Thomas estate, hailed the family’s settlement, which will be paid out jointly by Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services Inc. at a near-record amount for an incarceration death in the U.S. He said the settlement money will be split among Thomas’ six children, including four minors, CNN reported.
Heipt told HuffPost, “What happened to Terrill Thomas was a form of torture. He was a mentally ill man who needed help. Instead, he was deprived of life-sustaining nourishment — water. This is the sort of atrocity that should never happen in an American jail. Ever. There’s no excuse for it.”