The family of a man who died of “profound dehydration” inside a jail run by prominent Trump supporter and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has settled with the county and a health care company $6.75 million, one of the largest settlements in connection with a jail death in the United States.
Terrill Thomas died in April 2016, about six days after guards at a Milwaukee jail cut off his water supply. Other inmates reported hearing him beg for water before his death. Attorneys for the estate declined to specify how much of the settlement would be paid by Milwaukee County and how much would come from Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.
The lawsuit specifically named Clarke, claiming he “knowingly sanctioned” the decision to cut off inmates’ water supplies. The Thomas estate’s claims against Clarke and the other defendants were dismissed as part of the settlement.
“The amount of pain and suffering that Terrill Thomas went through is really hard to comprehend, and a ton of this is captured on video,” James End, an attorney with First, Albrecht & Blondis who worked on the Thomas case, told HuffPost. “The amount of suffering that Mr. Thomas went through was just tremendous, and that I think would be recognized by any person who took any time to listen to the facts of this case.”
“What happened to Terrill Thomas was a form of torture,” said Erik Heipt, one of the attorneys representing the Thomas estate. “He was a mentally ill man who needed help. Instead, he was deprived of life-sustaining nourishment — water. This is the sort of atrocity that should never happen in an American jail. Ever. There’s no excuse for it.”
In a joint statement, attorneys for the Thomas estate said that officials ignored Thomas’ “obvious signs of distress as he literally died of thirst.”
“While no amount of money will give Mr. Thomas his life back — or allow his children to spend another day with their father — it is our hope that this case sends a message to every single jail and prison in America that this type of blatant disregard for human life will not be tolerated,” the statement said.
Clarke, who spoke at the Republican National Convention weeks after Thomas’ death, said in 2017 that he would be going to work for the Department of Homeland Security, but the position never materialized. A number of inmates, including a baby, died in 2016 while Clarke was busy appearing on Fox News and settling sail on a National Review cruise. Clarke no longer appears on Fox News and left a pro-Trump super PAC, and is now associated with We Build the Wall, an organization that is crowdfunding the construction of sections of wall along the Mexican border.
Armor Correction Health Services is currently facing criminal charges in connection with the alleged falsification of medical records at Milwaukee County Jail, and three former jail staffers have been convicted in connection with Thomas’ death.
Thomas’ death was included in HuffPost’s jail deaths project, which sought to chronicle deaths in American jails in the year after Sandra Bland died.