Inquest Underway into Death of Man Who Died of Dehydration in Milwaukee County Jail

Apr 27, 2017

Update:

Among the people who testified Thursday at the inquest was Lt. Kashka Meadors, who says she ordered staff to shut off the water in Terrill Thomas' cell until he calmed down. Meadors says she was too busy to check back on the case but thought water would have been restored.

Milwaukee Police Lt. Eric Donaldson, who investigated Thomas' death from profound dehydration called it "unconscionable," during his testimony Thursday, that sheriff's officials did not tell him a captain viewed a video showing what took place in the cell. What could be a crucial part of the video was recorded over, in subsequent weeks.

Original story, April 27:

An inquest underway in Milwaukee is exploring whether criminal charges are warranted against anyone who was involved with the care of 38-year-old Terrill Thomas. He died of dehydration while in custody at the Milwaukee County Jail.

Thomas was arrested a year ago after allegedly opening fire at Potawatomi Casino. He was placed in solitary confinement and seven days later died. The Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Thomas died of profound dehydration and that his death was a ‘homicide,’ meaning others were involved.

Thomas suffered from bipolar disorder. And while in jail, someone turned off the water in his cell. Lawyers for his family say he went without water for about seven days.

In court on Wednesday, lawyers played a jail house phone call made by an inmate named Marcus Berry. The call took place two days after Thomas died. During the call, Berry repeatedly asked the person he was speaking with to contact the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel because he felt there was a conspiracy afoot.

Berry said authorities investigating the death interviewed everyone except him. He also alleged that staff members not only denied Thomas food and water, but they failed to give him anything to sleep on and sometimes laughed at him. In that phone call, Berry said he warned corrections officers that Thomas would die if they did not give him water.

Another issue that has come up is the fact that surveillance video that would have shown who had interactions with Thomas, and who shut off his water and when, was not saved. There have been a number of questions as to why and whether that move was purposeful.

Investigator Robert Stetler testified that because jail officials waited more than two months to download the surveillance video, it had already been overwritten.

The inquest is expected to go on for at least a couple more days as prosecutors call more witnesses. A jury of six people is hearing the case; afterward, they’ll issue an advisory verdict on whether there’s probable cause to charge anyone with a crime.  The District Attorney’s office does not have to adhere to that verdict.