Prosecutors say Milwaukee County inamte Terrill Thomas went 6 days without water

Thomas died of dehydration while in custody
Posted at 5:33 PM, Apr 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-25 10:40:19-04

Witness testimony began Monday in the case of a Milwaukee County inmate who died of dehydration in his jail cell.

Terrill Thomas, 38, died April 24, 2016 while in solitary confinement.

He was booked into jail on shooting charges. His attorney says his water was shut off for six days before his death.

A six-person jury was selected Monday for the inquest, an unusual legal proceeding that was requested by the Milwaukee County District Attorney.

In an inquest, a jury will decide if a crime was committed and if anyone should face charges. However, the District Attorney is not required to act on the jury's decision.

On Monday, the jury heard from the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner in Milwaukee County, as well as several members of law enforcement.

Decorie Smith, a corrections officer at the Milwaukee County Jail, testified about the night Thomas died. Smith was working alone on third shift in the pod where Thomas was being held.

He testified that he noticed Thomas was unresponsive during one of his inmate checks that he conducts every 30 minutes. He reported this to his supervisor.

"I also told him Mr. Thomas didn't seem right in my opinion," said Smith.

It was on his next check around 1:30 a.m. that they began life-saving efforts and medical personnel were called to Thomas' cell.

Smith said he was unaware that the water in Thomas' cell had been turned off.

"The only legitimate reason is if the cell is flooded or he's doing things to make the cell flooded," said Smith.

A lieutenant with the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office, who was also on shift the night Thomas died, said that Thomas had been moved from a mental health unit at the jail where he had flooded his cell.

But it's not policy to preemptively turn off the water in a new cell based on past behavior.

Court testimony also revealed that jail policy has changed following Thomas' death. At the time, it was up to an officer's discretion to turn off the water to an inmate's cell. Now, only a lieutenant has that authority.

There are potentially 90 witnesses who could testify in this inquest. A county judge said it could take the entire week.

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