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Family of Black Man Who Died After Being Deprived of Water at Sheriff Clarke’s Jail Reaches $6.75M Settlement

The family Terrill Thomas, an inmate who died inside a jail run by vocal Trump supporter and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, has settled a lawsuit against the county and a private health company for $6.75 million.

The award is one of the largest settlements in connection to a jail death in the U.S., according to HuffPost.

David Clarke

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke resigned from his post in 2017 following a string of inmate deaths at his jail. (Photo by Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Thomas, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was arrested April 15, 2016, after police said he shot a man and opened fire inside a casino. He died in his cell some nine days later after officers at the Milwaukee jail cut off his water supply for several days.

Fellow inmates reportedly heard the man begging for water in the days before his death.

“The amount of pain and suffering Terrill Thomas went through is really hard to comprehend, and a ton of this is captured on video,” James End, a layer with First, Albrecht & Blondis who worked on the case, told HuffPost in an interview. “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.”

Thomas’ family sued Clarke, the Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services Inc. following the death, and accused the former sheriff of “knowingly” sanctioning the decision to cut off water supplies to inmates at the jail.

Citing prosecutors, The New York Times reports that Thomas was moved into isolation after stuffing a mattress cover in the toilet and flooding his first cell. As punishment for his bad behavior, prosecutors said former jail lieutenant Kashka Meadors instructed former correctional officer James Ramsey-Guy to shut off the water supply to Thomas’ new cell.

It was never turned back on.

Not only was the man deprived of water, but prosecutors said he was fed a flavorless, brick-shaped dish called “Nutraloaf,” which has been banned in some states, according to EBONY. He refused to eat food provided at the jail and lost nearly 30 pounds as a result. He was found dead in his cell April 24, 2016.

“What happened to Terrill Thomas was a form of torture,” Erik Heipt, an attorney for the Thomas estate said. “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,” he added. “Ever. There’s no excuse for it.”

Thomas’ death was just one in a string of fatalities (including a newborn baby) inside the Milwaukee County Jail over a span of just seven months. After Thomas’ death, a 38-year-old female inmate and a 29-year-old male inmate died in August and October, respectively.

The deaths and a growing number of lawsuits eventually forced Clarke to resign as head of the jail in September 2017. He was tapped to serve in the Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump, but the gig never materialized. He later parted ways with a pro-Trump superPAC and now works with We Build the Wall, a crowdfunding group advocating for a wall along the U.S. Mexico border, HuffPost reported.

Three jail staffers were charged in connection to Thomas’ 2016 death after  jury recommended prosecutors charge them with felony abuse. Meadors and Ramsey-Guy were both charged with neglect of a resident of a penal facility. Meadors would go on to plead no contest to a felony charge of prisoner abuse and was sentenced to 60 days behind bars, while Ramsey-Guy got a 30-day sentence for a felony charge of abusing a resident of a penal facility.

Jail Cmdr. Nancy Lee Evans was also charged with felony misconduct and misdemeanor obstructing an office after prosecutors said she didn’t keep security footage of the guards shutting off the water supply and lied about what was in the footage. She pleaded guilty to felony misconduct in office earlier this year and was sentenced to nine months of what was expected to be house arrest.

Heipt was satisfied with the settlement and said he hopes something good will come from it.

In a statement, attorneys for the Thomas estate said that, “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.”

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