WASHINGTON ― The family of a man who died last year after being locked inside a jail cell for seven days without water filed a lawsuit on Monday against Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, alleging that Clarke “knowingly sanctioned” the decision of jail officials to cut off inmates’ water supply.
Terrill Thomas, 38, died of “profound dehydration” inside the Milwaukee County Jail, which Clarke runs. The lawsuit alleges that Thomas was suffering from an “acute mental health crisis” when he arrived at jail, but that officials subjected him to a “cruel form of punishment” by withholding water and removing his bed and mattress.
“For seven straight days, from April 17, 2016 until his death on April 24, 2016, Mr. Thomas remained locked alone in his cell, 24 hours a day, as he literally died of thirst,” the lawsuit states. “They also deprived him of edible food, a functioning toilet, access to a shower, a sanitary living environment, any relief from 24-hour lockdown, and urgently needed medical and mental health care.”
The Thomas family’s lawsuit also named as defendants Milwaukee County, Armor Correctional Health Services, and more than two dozen individuals.
In a period of just eight days in the jail, Thomas lost 34 pounds, which was more than 10 percent of his body weight, according to the lawsuit. The suit said staff members “regularly turned off inmates’ water to punish them for alleged misbehavior or to compel compliance with a staff directive.”
Four people, including a baby, died in the Milwaukee County Jail over the course of several months last year.
According to the lawsuit, Thomas was housed in a single-person isolation cell and served Nutraloaf, a “mishmash of bland ingredients, blended and baked into a solid loaf” the suit describes as a “dry, foul-tasting brick that many people find inedible.” The loaf was “extremely difficult, if not impossible, to consume” without water, the suit said.
The lawsuit alleges that Thomas was never allowed out of his cell, and was suffering under inhumane conditions:
Contrary to jail policy, the defendants never let Mr. Thomas out of his cell from the time he entered the unit on April 17 until the time of his death on April 24. Instead, they forced him to spend the last week of his life locked in an isolation cell 24 hours a day, with no drinking water, no edible food, no working toilet, no mattress, no blanket, no shower access, no means of cleaning his cell, no ability to communicate with his family, no relief from constant lockdown, and no meaningful access to urgently needed medical or mental health care. He languished and suffered in this filthy, unsanitary cell with nothing but his jail uniform and the rations of nutraloaf, which, without water, were inedible. This 24-hour lockdown prevented Mr. Thomas from seeking water from any source outside his cell.
A 12-person jury found during an inquest this spring that there was probable cause to charge seven jail employees in Thomas’ death.
Clarke is a regular presence of Fox News and a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump who spoke during the Republican National Convention last summer. Clarke had said in May that he was in line for a position within the Department of Homeland Security, but later rescinded his acceptance of the post.