Milwaukee County’s jail staff cut off an inmate’s access to water for seven days straight before he died of dehydration, and the man was too mentally unstable to ask for help as he slowly died, prosecutors said yesterday at an inquest, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The statements from prosecutors are the first official account validating what inmates told the Journal Sentinel about Terrill Thomas’ access to water in his cell. Inmates said they begged jail staff to help Thomas as he grew weak without water.
Thomas spent nine days in jail before he died in his cell one year ago. Jail staff made several decisions that run contrary to standard operating procedures at the jail, prosecutors said. A six-person jury will hear testimony and issue a verdict on whether those decisions warrant a filing of criminal charges in the case. Prosecutors are not required to follow the jury’s verdict. They have not said who is under consideration for criminal charges. Prosecutor Kurt Benkley said Thomas initially was placed in the jail’s special needs unit because he suffered from bipolar disorder and wasn’t taking his medication. But within a day, Thomas was transferred to the administrative segregation unit, commonly known as solitary confinement, after he tore up a mattress and used it to flood his cell. When Thomas arrived in solitary confinement, a corrections officer turned off the water in Thomas’ cell, surveillance video showed. “This order to shut off Mr. Thomas’ water was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail,” Benkley said.