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A man who died of dehydration at the Milwaukee County jail, overseen by Sheriff David Clarke, “was subjected to a form of torture” during 10 days in solitary confinement, his family alleges in a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit filed March 9 claims jail staff ignored 38-year-old Terrill Thomas’ pleas for water last April and that inmates “overheard his cries for water for days.”
Clarke responded to an inquiry about the case with an email in which he slammed Thomas’ criminal background.
“I have nearly 1000 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 while in possession of a firearm by a career convicted felon?” Clarke said. “The media never reports that in stories about him. If that is him, then at least I know who you are talking about.”
Thomas was among four people who’ve died in a Milwaukee County jail cell since April 2016 — and one of 12 who’ve died there since Clarke took office.
The mother of a newborn who died in the jail filed a suit against the sheriff in November 2016. That suit holds Clarke and correction officers at the jail responsible for the death. She claims an officer not only failed to help when she was going into labor, but also laughed at her. The neglect, she says, resulted in the baby’s death shortly after birth.
Officers claim the baby was stillborn. The complainant is seeking $8.5 million in damages.
But lawsuits go both ways, and Clarke is often on the filing end of them. Like his friend Donald Trump, he relishes a feel-good legal battle. The many lawsuits he’s filed against his employer — Milwaukee County — have cost county taxpayers about $400,000 since 2012.
The lawsuit brought by Thomas’ family came the same week that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office indicated in court documents it’s considering felony charges against jail staff who were on duty when Thomas died.
His family has said Thomas was having a mental breakdown when police arrested him April 14 for shooting a man in front of his parents’ house and later firing a gun inside a casino. Police took Thomas to a hospital to be examined because of he was being disruptive at the city jail and showing “signs of acute psychological disorders,” the lawsuit states. The hospital cleared him for transport to the county jail.
At some point, corrections officers turned off water in Thomas’ cell, according to the lawsuit. Corrections officers told inmates they turned off his water because he had been flooding his previous cell and being disruptive, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last year.
The medical examiner who conducted Thomas’ autopsy said he had suffered from “profound dehydration.”
The lawsuit asks that a jury determine a compensatory amount.
Also named in the lawsuit are several correctional officers and Miami-based Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc., which provides care for inmates at the county jail. The company said in a statement it does not comment on pending lawsuits.