Jury recommends Milwaukee jail staffers be charged for inmate dehydration death

A jury recommended Monday that charges be brought against seven Milwaukee County jail staffers in the dehydration death of an inmate who was allegedly denied water for seven days.

The Associated Press reported the jury heard jail staff testimony and considered evidence from county prosecutors during a six day inquest. Jury members ultimately decided there was probable cause that 38-year-old Terrill Thomas was abused before his death on April 24, 2016.

Charges were recommended for two jail supervisors, Nancy Evans and Kashka Meadors, and five officers: James Ramsey-Guy, JorDon Johnson, Thomas Laine, Dominique Smith and John Weber.

The jury reportedly came to a decision a few hours after hearing testimony that staffers continued to deprive inmates of water as a form of punishment even after Thomas’ death. Jail logs reportedly showed two others cases, both within a month of Thomas’ death, in which water was shut off to inmates’ cells.

The jail is overseen by controversial conservative figure Sheriff David Clarke, but he was not targeted or charged as a result of the inquest. Clarke issued a statement regarding the matter in March, highlighting 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.”

Clarke also noted on Facebook that he would not comment further on the matter and would let the legal process move forward.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm will ultimately decide whether or not to file the recommended charges, but said there is no timeline and that fewer or more people could end up being charged.

Chisholm noted he thought jurors were convinced from the evidence that jail policies had not been followed and called the incident a “major system failure.”

“I think it’s just the clear lack of oversight over this entire process that really troubled them more than anything else,” he said.

Thomas was arrested in April 2016 for allegedly shooting a man in front of his parents’ house. Charges also allege Thomas, whose family said was suffering a mental breakdown, later fired the gun inside a casino.

According to evidence presented at the inquest, jail staffers failed to log the shutting off of Thomas’ water supply, an action that was taken after Thomas allegedly flooded his cell by stuffing a mattress in the toilet.

During his closing arguments to the jury, Chisholm said Thomas’ family had one question for the jail staffers.

“Had Mr. Thomas been your son, had he been your brother, had he been a close friend, would this have happened?” Chisholm said. “I think we all know the answer to that.”