Thomas died after jailers decided to punish him by cutting off his cell’s access to water, then forgetting to reconnecting it.
The family of Terrill Thomas, a Milwaukee man who died of dehydration in jail, has been awarded $6.75 million as part of a settlement.
Thomas, writes NPR, died in Milwaukee County Jail in April 2016, after water in the 38-year old man’s cell was shut off for an entire week.
The entire, multi-million dollar award will be paid by Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services, the latter of which was contracted to provide medical care in the county’s jails.
Edwin Budge, an attorney for Thomas’s family, told NPR they’re happy to have recompense but hope their loved one’s death can spur reform.
“We think that the amount of the settlement reflects the callous disregard for Terrill Thomas’s life and the magnitude of his pain and suffering,” Budge said. “Too many Americans die each year in our county jails because of abuse and neglect. […] Hopefully this case serves as a wake-up call to government and corporate officials that operate our nation’s jails.”
The family’s attorneys added, in a separate statement, that the award is “believed to be the largest jail death settlement in Wisconsin history.”
Both NPR and the Associated Press say that Milwaukee County Attorney Margaret Daun, didn’t immediately respond to any request for comment. However, spokespeople for Armor Correctional Health did say they were in the process of putting together a statement.
Thomas, writes the A.P., was arrested on April 14, 2016. He’d allegedly had a mental breakdown, shooting a man in front of his parents’ house and then firing a gun inside a casino.
After intake, Thomas was purportedly unruly—he used his mattress to clog the toilet in one cell.
“He had part of the ripped mattress, and he was pushing it down in the toilet as well, flooding it, making the water come out into—out from under his cell into the dayroom area,” former Lt. Kaskha Meadors testified.
Officials switched him to another and decided to punish Thomas by cutting his water access—a practice the lawsuit claims was commonplace at the jail.
In solitary confinement, Thomas was left without water and fed only “nutraloaf,” which the complaint describes as a “foul-tasting brick” so dry its dust would set off fire alarms.
“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,” the lawsuit states.
And the Milwaukee Jail never turned Thomas’s water back on, even as other inmates repeatedly tried to warn guards.
He died a week after landing in solitary, having lost 34 pounds—an entire 10 percent of his body weight—from being continuously dehydrated.
Meadors, notes NPR, plead no contest to criminal charges filed against her following Thomas’s death. Other Milwaukee Jail officials were also indicted.
Another of the Thomas family’s attorneys, Seattle-based Erik Heipt, suggested the county got off easy and would likely have paid more had the case gone to trial.
“What happened to him was a form of torture,” Heipt said. “This sort of atrocity should never happen at an American jail. There’s no excuse for it.”
The $6.75 million settlement will be distributed among Thomas’s six children, four of whom are still minors.