Milwaukee pays nearly $7M to settle jail death lawsuit
Officials had turned off water to the inmate’s cell as punishment, but it was never turned back on and he died a week later
By IVAN MORENO
MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County paid nearly $7 million to settle a lawsuit from the family of a man whose dehydration death in jail was described by his attorneys as torture.
Attorneys for 38-year-old Terrill Thomas called the settlement one of the largest ever in Wisconsin for a jail death. Tuesday was the first time they publicly announced the settlement, but it was finalized in March. The lawsuit was dismissed earlier this month.
“The size of the settlement I believe reflected the tremendous pain and suffering that Mr. Thomas endured for days,” said James End, a Milwaukee attorney who represented Thomas’ family.
The county’s attorney, Margaret Daun, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc., a Florida-based company who was in charge of inmate care at the time of Thomas’ death, was working on a statement in response to the settlement. The company was also named in the lawsuit .
Thomas’ family has said he was having a mental breakdown when police arrested him April 14, 2016, for shooting a man in front of his parents’ house and later firing a gun inside a casino.
At the jail, Thomas had water to his cell shut off as punishment because he had flooded his previous cell by stuffing a mattress in the toilet. The water was never turned back on and he died a week later. He lost 34 pounds (15.5 kilograms), or 10 percent of his body weight, during the week he was deprived of water, according to the lawsuit.
Erik Heipt, a Seattle-based attorney who also represented Thomas’ family, said the county could’ve ended up paying more at a jury trial.
“What happened to him was a form of torture,” Heipt. “This sort of atrocity should never happen at an American jail. There’s no excuse for it.”
Heipt said the settlement money will be split among Thomas’ six children, including four minors.
Milwaukee prosecutors filed criminal charges against three jail staffers who were involved in shutting off Thomas’ water or who lied to police during the subsequent investigation.