Solitary confinement inmate who died of dehydration spent his final days begging for water

A psychologically troubled inmate in Sheriff David Clark’s Milwaukee County Jail made it clear to prison staff that he was desperate for water, prosecutors say, but the staff ignored his pleas and let him die of dehydration.

As Crime Online previously reported, Terrill Thomas died on April 24, 2016, while in solitary confinement at the Milwaukee County Jail. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, and confirmed that the cause of death was “profound dehydration.”

In March, Thomas’s family filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Clark, but no criminal charges have been filed a year after Thomas’s preventable death.

According to the Washington Post, an inquest is taking place this week to determine if any specific individuals should be held responsible for the inmate’s death.

Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley reportedly told the jury at the inquest that they would be expected to answer the following three questions:

What was the cause of Mr. Thomas’ death? Was it the result of criminal activity? And if so, who committed the crime?”

An earlier report in the Associated Press said that Thomas, 38, who was behind bars for a nonfatal shooting at a Cleveland casino during what his family claimed was a mental breakdown, could be overheard begging for water while in solitary confinement. Prison staff told fellow inmates that they had turned off the water in his cell because he had flooded another cell, which reportedly led to his being placed in solitary confinement.

The Associated Press report said that fellow inmates “overheard his cries for water for days” before he was found dead in his cell.

At the inquest, Benkley reportedly indicated that the three staffers seen on surveillance cameras cutting off Thomas’s water supply may not have had proper authorization to do so, and did not communicate with supervisors that the water had been left off for days. At the prison, inmates in solitary confinement reportedly do not receive water or any beverage with their meals except on Sundays. Thomas’s only access to water on the other days would have been from the cell tap that had been turned off.

When Thomas’s family filed the lawsuit against Sheriff Clark, he gave the following statement to the Associated Press:

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? The media never reports that in stories about him. If that is him, then at least I know who you are talking about.


Photo: Milwaukee County Jail