Milwaukee Inmate Terrill Thomas Denied Water As Punishment, Dies
September 26, 2016 (Fault Lines) — If the allegations regarding Terrill Thomas contained in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reflect what actually happened to Thomas in a county jail, it’s enough to shake the foundations of the most stoic. That paper reports:
Terrill Thomas was arrested April 15 after shooting a man in the chest and later firing two shots in the Potawatomi casino. At his initial court appearance from inside the jail’s segregation unit, his lawyer told the judge there was reason to believe he wasn’t mentally competent. The judge ordered a psychiatric examination be completed by May 11.
But Thomas died in his cell on April 24.
His family thinks jail employees might have cut off his water supply when he acted erratically instead of getting him mental health treatment. An inmate whose cell was across from his said he repeatedly urged corrections officers to give Thomas water the day before he died.
The sight and sound of a mentally ill Thomas yelling, begging for water while being ignored by corrections officers paints a picture that’s devoid of any sense of humanity. If it’s true that Thomas was deprived of water because of his purported “erratic” behavior, the sick animals correctional officers tasked with his supervision should be fired and never be allowed to take the gypsy road to the next correctional gig. It’s not as if Thomas was another mentally ill inmate who was boiled to death for a minor transgression, but his case should still shock the conscience.
Anyone with his ear to the ground can attest to the fact that American county jails have become the de facto baskets asylums where the mentally ill are currently warehoused. The obvious result is that the ill are put in the hands of officers who are unwilling or (more importantly) ill-equipped to handle someone with a mental defect who’s been taken into state custody. Thomas’ tale of misery gets worse by each disclosure:
Marcus Berry said he was in a cell across from Thomas for the last six days of his life.
Berry said Thomas rarely slept and appeared to be suffering from mental health problems. He’d stuff toilet paper into his mouth and spit it out. He shouted strange things — “Pure cocaine,” “T.J. Thomas is my daddy,” “God is coming soon!” — while slapping the walls of his cell.
The tap water in Thomas’ cell was shut off the day he was brought to the segregation unit, Berry said; those taps are inmates’ primary source of drinking water. Berry said a correctional officer told him the water was shut off because of Thomas’ behavior in his previous cell.
The Sheriff’s Office declined to say if an inmate’s water would be shut off for disciplinary purposes.
The fact that the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t flat out deny, and instead lamely pulled a CIA and would neither confirm nor deny, that water is shut off in its jails as a form of punishment, speaks volumes. This is one of those rare situations where a flat out denial of a disturbingly inhuman practice would be volleyed back to the press. But it was not to be, and Thomas was initially punished with having to eat something considered inedible (as per Judge Richard Posner) before he was left to starve and die:
Berry said Thomas also refused to eat Nutraloaf, a food product served to inmates in the segregation unit.
“I could tell he was getting weaker,” Berry said. “One day he just lay down, dehydrated and hungry.” When Berry asked if Thomas needed water, he said it sounded like Thomas tried to say “yeah” but couldn’t fully speak.
Berry said he urged a correctional officer to bring Thomas water, but said he was told it would have to wait until another officer was on duty.
Berry said he told an officer that he had never seen Thomas lie down before in the six days he had been in the cell.
“Cell 15 needs water,” he recalls saying. That officer told him Thomas was asleep and didn’t need water while sleeping.
Before going to bed that night, Berry said he told an officer: “If something happens to that man, it’s your fault.”
As battered and dysfunctional American institutions – correctional or otherwise – have become, it’s a disgrace that someone should be deliberately left to die of thirst in a county jail.
The United States gives itself the privilege to lecture fellow rogue states on human rights and whatnot, but when it cannot keep an inmate like Thomas alive between court hearings because of water (or lack thereof, as in Thomas’ case), it becomes the proverbial hypocritical laughing stock. When inmates keep dying in custody for whatever reasons, credibility is the first thing to go out the window.
As for the Milwaukee correctional officers who ignored Thomas’ cries for help and left him to die of thirst, if the allegations are true, they’re fair game for Señor Pacino’s suggestion for those who cower, hide, and run when the stuff hits the fan: “Wherever you are, fuck you!”