MILWAUKEE -- A man who died of dehydration at the Milwaukee County jail “was subjected to a form of torture” during 10 days in solitary confinement, his family alleges in a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit filed Thursday claims jail staff ignored 38-year-old Terrill Thomas’ pleas for water last April and that inmates “overheard his cries for water for days.”
Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for County Executive Chris Abele, said the county takes all complaints filed against it seriously but can’t comment on pending litigation.
Thomas was among four people who died at the Milwaukee County jail last year. A woman whose baby died at the jail after she gave birth is also suing.
The lawsuit comes the same week that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office indicated in court documents it is 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 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.”
Sheriff David Clarke, who oversees the jail, said he had no comment on the lawsuit but he noted Thomas’ criminal background in an email statement.
“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.”
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.