Family of Inmate Who Died of Dehydration Will Get $6.75M

Jail staff cut water to Milwaukee man's cell
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2019 2:52 AM CDT
Family of Inmate Who Died of Dehydration Will Get $6.75M
This undated photo taken by Kimberly Perry shows Terrill Thomas, left, and his son Terrill Barnes.   (Kimberly Perry via AP, File)

The family of an inmate who died a slow death from dehydration after water to his cell was cut off has received one of the largest settlements for a jail death in American history. Terrill Thomas, 38, died in solitary confinement in April 2016, seven days after water was cut off as punishment for flooding a previous cell at the Milwaukee County Jail, the BBC reports. The $6.75 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by his family includes $5 million from the county and $1.75 million from Armor Correctional Health Services, which provided health care at the jail. "This settlement reflects not only the profound harm suffered by Mr. Thomas and his family, but also the shocking nature of the defendants’ misconduct in shutting off this man’s water and ignoring his obvious signs of distress as he literally died of thirst," the family's lawyers said in a statement.

Court documents state that on his last day alive, Thomas "was simply lying naked on his cell floor, barely able to move, severely dehydrated, literally dying of thirst." Thomas was arrested in April 2016 after firing two shots inside a casino and stuffing poker chips into his pockets. Relatives say he was having a mental breakdown after failing to take medication for bipolar disorder, and his condition prevented him from communicating with jail staff. Three jail employees were convicted for their roles in the death and criminal charges are pending against Armor, USA Today reports. "What happened to him was a form of torture," says attorney Erik Heipt, per the AP. "This sort of atrocity should never happen at an American jail. There's no excuse for it." He says the settlement will be split among Thomas' six children, including four minors. (A commander who saw footage of the water being cut off concealed the information from investigators.)

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