When inmate Terrill Thomas was incarcerated in a Milwaukee prison, he was severely mentally ill.
This inmate was unable to ask for help when he needed it
And after seven days with no access to water, he was dead. He died after becoming weak and severely dehydrated, losing 35 pounds along the way. He was too mentally ill to ask for the medical attention he needed. And he died alone, in solitary confinement.
The Milwaukee County Jail is run by Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke. Except when it’s not, which is most of the time. As an avid Trump supporter, Clarke is with his idol at every opportunity.
So inmates like Thomas suffer and die. And that led county prosecutors to look into his death on Monday with a preliminary hearing to see whether prison guards committed a crime, Slate reports.
During the hearing, a jury of six people listened as prosecutors said that cutting off the water to Thomas’s cell “was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail,” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. The prosecutors remarks came as part of an inquest into the inmate’s death, and jurors will decide if there’s probable cause to charge anyone with a crime in Thomas’s death, The Huffington Post reported.
An inquest is a legal procedure that’s rarely used. It gives prosecutors the chance to question witnesses under oath in front of a jury before they file criminal charges. Then the jury comes back with a unanimous verdict regarding whether there’s probable cause to charge someone, and what the charges should be.
During the opening statement and testimony from a number of witnesses, prosecutors showed how the violation of a sheriff’s office policy, a strange jail practice, Thomas’s mental state at the time and inattentive corrections officers led to the man’s death, the Journal-Sentinel reports.
Surveillance videos show three corrections officers cut off the water in Thomas’s cell — which they did as a disciplinary measure after he flooded another cell — and failed to turn the water back on. Those same officers didn’t document the water cut off, nor did they inform their supervisors. That meant other corrections officers didn’t know what was — or wasn’t being done, said Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley, in his opening statement.
“This order to shut off Mr. Thomas’s water was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail,” he said.
He also said it’s likely that Thomas didn’t receive water or any other drinks with his food. Jail policies call for inmates to drink water out of their own sinks, but of course, Thomas was unable to do that, The Journal-Sentinel reports.
There is a possibility that Thomas may have created a commotion because of his lack of water, but Benkley doesn’t believe this is so. The evidence, he said, will make it apparent that Thomas’s bipolar disorder — something that jail staff knew about — made it clear “he was unable to tell people about his basic needs.” He was in jail after being arrested on charges of allegedly shooting a man, then driving to a local casino and firing shots inside the building.
Family members said Thomas was in the middle of a mental breakdown.
Just how much corrections officials knew about this inmate’s deteriorating condition isn’t known. But inmates have previously told The Journal-Sentinel that they alerted jail staff about Thomas’s lack of water.
The district attorney argued in a court filing last month that abusing, neglecting or mistreating an inmate is a public welfare offense.
“Inmates are at the mercy of their jailors for basic life-sustaining necessities like water, food and medical care,” the district attorney wrote in a court filing. “When a mentally ill inmate like Mr. Thomas, is locked in solitary confinement without access to water, his life is totally in his jailors’ hands. The law must strictly require jailors to safeguard lives which are so completely entrusted to their care. Stupidity, thoughtlessness, indifference are not morally sufficient excuses nor valid legal excuses.”
Would you be surprised to find out that the prison is run by Sheriff David Clarke, one of Donald Trump’s high profile cronies? Well guess what— it is. While he’s appeared tough on a number of conservative news outlets, he definitely doesn’t seem to be in the building when it comes to the Milwaukee County Jail, where Thomas spent his final days, The Huffington Post reported.
Related: Feds Asking Why People – Even A Newborn – Keep Dying In Right Wing Nut Sheriff David Clarke’s Jail
The Justice Department was considering launching a civil rights investigation into the conditions inside Clarke’s prison, but at this time, the status of this investigation isn’t clear.
A number of people have died at this jail — including a newborn baby — but Clarke is blaming everyone except himself, The Huffington Post reports.
Erik J. Haupt, an attorney for Thomas’s family, noted the passing anniversary of his death.
“He was a pretrial detainee in a mental health crisis,” Haupt said. “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. Nothing like this should ever happen in an American jail.”
I would argue that this shouldn’t happen in any prison. I keep imagining how awful it must have been for Thomas, struggling with unimaginable thirst. Until he finally struggled no more.
In the video below, you can watch the testimony of some of the witnesses.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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