A grand jury on Monday recommended criminal charges against several jail staffers in the dehydration death of an inmate last year. Terrill Thomas, 38, died in April 2016 in the jail run by controversial Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke after staffers shut off the water in his cell for a week as punishment for misbehavior. Jurors recommended that two Milwaukee County Jail supervisors and five corrections officers be charged with abuse of a resident of a penal facility. Smith was one of four people who died last in year in the jail run by Clarke, who is reportedly being considered by the Trump administration for a position at the Department of Homeland Security. Prosecutors’ investigation into the jail death did not target Clarke himself.
Jurors recommended charges after six days of testimony from Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office employees and evidence presented by prosecutors. A coroner’s report on Thomas’ death said he died of “profound dehydration.” A lawsuit filed against the sheriff’s office by Thomas’ family alleges that several inmates said they heard Thomas plea for water for days before he died. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisolm told jurors that jail staff had “many opportunities” to help Thomas, but did not.
Clarke has repeatedly declined to comment on the case beyond highlighting Thomas’ criminal record. Jail staffers disciplined at least two other inmates by shutting their water off after Thomas’ death, Chisolm said.
The federal lawsuit filed against Clarke by Thomas’ family is one of two filed since December in the wake of four deaths that occurred in Clarke’s jail last year. Another lawsuit alleges that more than 40 pregnant women were shackled with “belly-chains” that tied their wrists and legs to their stomach while they were labor. Clarke’s jail has a policy that requires all inmates to be shackled while receiving hospital care that that does not make exceptions for pregnancy, the lawsuit says.
Clarke, who rose to prominence last year as a vocal Trump supporter and a frequent guest on Fox News, has also faced resistance from community members and local officials over his plans to enroll his sheriff’s department in a collaborative immigration enforcement program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency housed within the Department of Homeland Security. Now, Clarke is reportedly being considered by the Trump administration for a position as assistant secretary at DHS’s Office of Partnership and Engagement. In that role, Clarke would coordinate DHS outreach to state and local law enforcement agencies.