Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke rose to national prominence last summer for his vigorous Donald Trump endorsement — which included a “Blue Lives Matter” speech at the GOP convention and a fight with Don Lemon — and he’s back in the spotlight for a terrible reason. In April 2016, inmate Terrill Thomas died from severe dehydration in Clarke’s jail. Now, an inquest has revealed that Thomas, who was bipolar, was left in solitary confinement for seven days with no water.
Correction officers had reportedly turned off the Thomas’ water pipes as a disciplinary tactic after he flooded another cell. These officers reportedly never informed their colleagues or documented the issue, and Thomas didn’t receive water with his meals because inmates generally drink from the sinks in their cells. Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley revealed how jail surveillance videos showed three staffers cutting off the water, and the Washington Post reports that fellow inmates claim that Thomas “spent his final days begging for water.”
The Journal Sentinel relays that the inquest will dig into what other jail staffers knew (or should have known) about Thomas’ plight:
In theory, Thomas could have caused a commotion over his lack of water. But Benkley said the evidence will show Thomas’ bipolar disorder — which the jail’s staff knew about — made it apparent he “was unable to tell people about his basic needs.” Thomas was in jail following an arrest on charges that he shot a man, drove to the Potawatomi casino and fired two rounds inside the building. Family members said he was in the throes of a mental breakdown.
It remains unclear how much corrections officers knew about Thomas’ deteriorating condition. Inmates have previously told the Journal Sentinel they complained to jail staff about Thomas’ lack of water. At least 20 corrections officers worked on the solitary confinement wing during the week Thomas was housed there.
Between the time that Thomas entered the jail and the week that passed before his death, he lost 35 pounds from dehydration. At least one corrections officer has testified that she knew nothing about the pipes in Thomas’ cell not being operational, and Benkley argued in court that the cut-off order “was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail.”
Thomas’ family maintains that the gun-related incident for which he was arrested — he fired into the air at a casino and began yelling about snakes — was proof that he was having a mental breakdown. His family also believes that his illness left him able to effectively communicate with corrections officers about his suffering, which his sons equate to “a form of torture.”