MILWAUKEE -- The jury in the inquest of Terrill Thomas, the man who died of dehydration in the Milwaukee County Jail last year, has determined that there is probable cause to charge seven jail employees in his death.
The Medical Examiner ruled that Thomas' death was a homicide. He went seven days without water after it was shut off to his cell.
The jury began deliberating at around 2:30 p.m. Monday. The district attorney gave them a list of seven names - seven members of the jail staff who may have have played a role in Thomas's death. After a couple hours of deliberation, the jury decided all seven should be charged.
Those seven are Jail Commander Maj. Nancy Evans, Lt. Kashka Meadors and Correctional Officers Thomas Laine, James Ramsey-Guy, John Weber, JorDan Johnson and Dominique Smith.
Johnson and Smith both pleaded the fifth amendment in the case and did not testify.
Meadors gave the order to turn off Thomas' water after Thomas flooded his cell in the mental health unit. He was transferred to the disciplinary unit and that's when Meadors ordered Officer Ramsey-Guy to turn off the water to Thomas' cell until he "calms down."
That action was never logged in any official jail log, or mentioned in any staff briefing, according to testimony. As a result, Thomas' water was never turned back on.
Jail policy states that an inmate should have 24/7 access to water in their cell. While in the disciplinary pod, inmates are only given a meal with a drink on Sundays. Every other day, inmates are given something called Nutraloaf, a food served in prisons and jails across the country. When given Nutraloaf, the inmates are not given anything to drink and can only drink water from the sink in their cell.
Testimony revealed that while his water was shut off, correctional officers didn't provide Thomas with anything to drink. Several officers testified that they didn't know his water had been shut off since the action wasn't logged.
District Attorney John Chisholm will now decide if formal charges will be filed. He is not required to charge based on the jury's recommendation.
"At the end of the day keeping somebody safe, not neglecting them and not ill treating them that's not a very high standard," Chisholm said.
Chisholm said his goal of the inquest was to figure out who is responsible for Thomas' death.
"So as a result we tried to narrow the universe to people who actually had direct contact with Mr. Thomas with the exception of the leadership which arguably should have known these practices were taking place," Chisholm said.
He said he has no timeline on when criminal charges could come and who could face them.
'"I have now start this process all over again conceding that there is probable cause in certain cases and certain individuals. But I never comment on whether someone is going to be charged," he said.
That includes commenting on whether the head of the jail, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, should face charges. Chisholm said he cannot say.
Clarke released the following statement on Facebook Monday following the verdict:
This is part of a process. I respect the process. Jury recommendations are just that. The 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.
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