Inmate Died After Being Denied Water For 7 Days, Prosecutors Say
A 38-year-old man died of dehydration in his cell in the Milwaukee County Jail after being deprived of water for seven days, several news outlets reported Tuesday.
Prosecutors and a lawyer representing the estate of the inmate, Terrill Thomas, say that correction officers turned off the man’s water supply in an isolation cell and that he was unable to ask for help because he was having a mental health crisis, according to The New York Times.
Thomas, who died last year, had bipolar disorder, Erik Heipt, the lawyer representing Mr. Thomas’s estate said.
His death was ruled a homicide by the Milwaukee Medical Examiner’s office last fall leading to more questions about what happened and why, WGNTV reported.
According to the station, jail employees and several others testified throughout the week, sometimes giving conflicting reports of what happened during the week leading up to Thomas’ death, according to CNN affiliate WITI, which was in court.
“No one informed me that his water was off,” Officer Thomas Laine testified. He was one of several corrections officers who testified that they were not aware that Thomas had no access to water, according to CNN affiliate WITI.
“It ought to be noted, but it is not noted in the logs like it should be. Probably because it happens so often,” she said in testimony.
Lt. Jeffery Andrykowski, who was working the day Thomas was found dead in his solitary confinement cell, testified that shutting off water to a cell as punishment was against jail protocol. He also denied knowing that Thomas had no access to water.
“He needed mental health treatment, but instead of the jail treating his very serious mental health needs, they responded by punishing him for acting out,” attorney Erik Heipt said. “They treated his mental illness as a behavioral problem and disciplined him.”
Mr. Thomas was arrested on April 15, 2016 on felony firearm and reckless endangerment charges after he fired shots in a local casino. He was placed in a cell at the Milwaukee County Jail with no mattress, blanket or pillow, Mr. Heipt said. There was a toilet, but it wouldn’t flush after the water was turned off, he said.
Mr. Thomas was not given drinks with his food, which was an unsavory, brick-shaped dish called “Nutraloaf” that some states have banned. He did not eat the meals and lost at least 30 pounds, Mr. Heipt said.
While other inmates told correction officers that Mr. Thomas needed water, Mr. Thomas could not advocate this himself, Mr. Heipt said. On April 24, Mr. Thomas was found dead on the floor of his cell.
The inquest continues Monday as the prosecutor’s office continues to call witnesses before a jury of six people. After witnesses testify and all evidence is presented, the jury will determine if there is adequate grounds to file criminal charges and make a recommendation. Prosecutors are not, however, obligated to follow the jury’s recommendation.