3 Milwaukee County Jail staffers point fingers at others in dehydration death
Jacob Carpenter and Dave Umhoefer , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published 1:50 p.m. CT April 27, 2017 | Updated 9 hours ago
Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department Lt. Kashka Meadors in court testifying in the inquest into the death of Terrill Thomas. Michael Sears / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
(Photo: Michael Sears, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Three Milwaukee County Jail staffers blamed each other Thursday for failing to document the shutoff of an inmate’s water seven days before he died of dehydration.
A corrections lieutenant and two officers all said they believed a co-worker had noted in jail logs that staff cut off the water in inmate Terrill Thomas’ solitary confinement cell. Without the notation, other corrections officers and supervisors had no way of knowing Thomas was deprived of water.
The testimony came on the fourth day of the inquest into the death of Thomas, 38, whose untreated bipolar disorder rendered him incapable of asking for help. An inquest is a rarely used legal procedure that allows prosecutors to question witnesses under oath in public before they decide whether to criminally charge anybody over a death. A jury hears the testimony and issues an advisory verdict on whether there’s probable cause to file charges.
The three jail staffers each offered differing accounts of the water shutoff.
Jail Lt. Kashka Meadors testified she ordered a corrections officer, James Ramsey-Guy, to cut off the water going to Thomas’ toilet in his new cell after he flooded a previous cell. Meadors, questioned by District Attorney John Chisholm, said she meant the shutoff order to stay in effect only until Thomas settled down.
She said officers told her the water situation was resolved before she left for the day.
“I was under the impression that it was taken care of, and as well, I briefed my supervisor,” Meadors said.
Ramsey-Guy testified he only shut off Thomas’ cold water and left on the hot water — even though investigators found the entire water system off. Ramsey-Guy said he expected another officer on the jail wing, John Weber, to document the shutoff.
“I was the one that turned the water off, so the officer at the desk was the one who was supposed to log it,” Ramsey-Guy said.
Weber, in turn, testified he didn’t know who issued the order or cut off the water.
The sequence of events was captured on surveillance video. But that part of the tape was overwritten because jail administrators didn’t download it quickly enough.
Testifying on Thursday, a Milwaukee police lieutenant leading the Thomas case, Eric Donaldson, said jail administrators knew early in the investigation about the video and had a corrections captain watch it. But Donaldson said administrators didn’t immediately download the tape or tell him about the captain’s viewing, which amounted to deception.
“It’s unconscionable,” Donaldson said. “It’s like you’re hiding something.”
The jail’s commander, Maj. Nancy Evans, testified Tuesday that she didn’t believe downloading the video was necessary because detectives initially said Thomas died of natural causes. She also said a corrections captain, George Gold, viewed the tape days after Thomas' death and reported to her that the video showed nothing suspicious.
Gold has testified that he saw Ramsey-Guy on the video enter a closet where water valves are located, presumably to turn off the water to Thomas’ cell. Nobody else entered the closet before Thomas’ death, Gold said.
Gold testified he reported this to Evans, but Evans never directed him to write a report or share the information. Evans denied the exchange.
Jail administrators finally downloaded the video around the time the Journal Sentinel questioned them about inmate accounts that Thomas might have died of dehydration. A final autopsy report concluding Thomas died of dehydration didn’t come until early September.
Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. has not commented publicly about the details of the case or any administrative changes he’s made. Evans and the jail’s second-in-command, former deputy inspector Kevin Nyklewicz, have testified that jail staff committed numerous policy violations leading up to Thomas’ death.
Clarke has complained publicly that the news media fail to more prominently report on Thomas’ poor physical health and the charges that landed him in jail — neither of which had any bearing on his death.
The inquest is expected to finish early next week. Prosecutors have not said who is under consideration for criminal charges.
April 25 (UPI) -- A Milwaukee County Jail inmate went seven days without water before dying of dehydration, prosecutors said at an inquest into the man's death.
Terrill Thomas was mentally unstable and unable to ask for help before he was found dead on April 24, 2016, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley told jurors on Monday.
The cause of death was ruled "profound dehydration" and the medical examiner classified it a homicide.
The jury's advisory verdict could determine whether jail staff should be criminally charged.
Thomas had been placed in solitary confinement after using a mattress to flood his cell in the special needs unit, where he was kept for his bipolar disorder.
Milwaukee County Jail Lt. Jeffrey Andrykowski and corrections officer Decorie Smith both testified that they were never told the water in Thomas' new cell was turned off and that Thomas never asked for water.
Benkley said in his opening statement three corrections officers allegedly were captured on surveillance video cutting off Thomas's water supply. They never turned it back on and failed to document the action or alert supervisors.