Milwaukee cops shut off water to Terrill Thomas, inmate who died of dehydration

Prosecutors are looking into whether jail staff should face criminal charges in Terrill Thomas' death

By Matthew Rozsa
April 25, 2017 11:13PM (UTC)
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(Reuters/Fred Thornhill)

Prosecutors in Milwaukee are raising serious questions about the death of Terrill Thomas, who one year ago this month died of "profound dehydration" after being thrown into solitary confinement by jail staff and having his water turned off.

"This order to shut off Mr. Thomas' water was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail," said Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley in an opening statement at the inquest, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.


He also claimed that surveillance videos show three corrections officers turning off the water in Thomas' cell as punishment after he flooded a previous cell, then neglecting to resume his water flow after a reasonable period of time. Because the officers never formally documented that they had cut off Thomas' water, no one else knew that it had happened, and Thomas did not receive water or other beverages with his food for days.

Jail policy requires inmates to drink water from their sinks.

Benkley also argued that, because Thomas has bipolar disorder, he was "unable to tell people about his basic needs." He claims that the jail staff knew about Thomas' mental health issues, and yet the prosecutor asserts that at least 20 corrections officers who worked on the solitary confinement wing while Thomas was held there did not notice that their inmate was in distress. Most of them are expected to testify that they were unaware his water had been cut off.


Thomas was arrested on charges of shooting one man, driving to a nearby casino and then firing two rounds inside the building.


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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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