Criminal charges recommended in death of prisoner who had no water for a week
Jurors recommended criminal charges be filed against seven employees of the Milwaukee County Jail in the death of 38-year-old inmate Terrill Thomas.
“At the end of the day keeping somebody safe, not neglecting them and not ill-treating them, that’s not a very high standard. It’s really not,”Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm said after the jury issued their verdict Monday, according to CNN affiliate WITI.
Thomas died of dehydration in his cell last April after being denied water for seven days. The jury’s recommendation came after six days of testimony in an inquest process, in which prosecutors call witnesses and present evidence to a jury. The district attorney’s office is not required to take the jury’s recommendation but the attorney for three of Thomas’ children believe charges will be filed.
“I think they will at least file neglect and abuse of inmate charges, a minor felony in Wisconsin,” said Walter Stern, an attorney for some members of Thomas’ family.
“I do not believe they will charge anyone with an actual homicide,” he added.
Charges were recommended against former Jail Administrator Nancy Evans, who oversaw the jail, Lt. Kashka Meadors, the officer who gave the order to shut off the water to Thomas’ cell, the corrections officer who carried out that order, and other corrections officers.
“I don’t know if I could have prevented it,” Lt. Meadors testified last week, referring to Thomas’ death. She told the court she ordered only the toilet water to be turned off in his cell, after Thomas flooded the toilet in a previous cell.
Several other jail employees, including Officer Thomas Laine, who could also be facing charges, testified that they did not know Thomas had no access to water because the decision to shut it off was never noted in the jail logs.
“It ought to be noted, but it is not noted in the logs like it should be, probably because it happens so often,” said Lt. Meadors in testimony last week.
Thomas was arrested on April 15, 2016 and charged with reckless endangerment and felony firearms violations after he fired shots in a local casino, according to court documents. All charges related to his arrest were dismissed after his death.
His family has filed a 25-page federal civil complaint against Sheriff David Clarke, who oversees the jail, Milwaukee County and other jail officials. Among the allegations in the lawsuit is that the defendants deliberately and willfully failed to provide Thomas medical care.
Sheriff Clarke responded to the jury’s recommendation on Facebook. “This is part of a process. I respect the process,” he wrote. “Jury recommendations are just that. His next step in the process is for DA Chisholm to decide if actual charges will be brought forth. There will be no speculation of what will happen until it happens.”
As the district attorney’s office decides whether or not to press charges, Thomas’ 21-year-old son, Terrill Barnes, expressed relief at the jury’s recommendation, saying it provided a small measure of justice, according to his attorney Walter Stern.