Dehydration Lawsuit at David Clarke’s Milwaukee Jail Settles for $6.75 Million

The family of a man who died of dehydration in a Milwaukee city-run jail will receive a $6.75 million settlement from a 2017 lawsuit. The attorneys for Terrill Thomas, a man who died of dehydration in Milwaukee County Jail in Wisconsin in 2016, told the Associated Press that this is one of the largest settlements in the history of the state.

“The size of the settlement I believe reflected the tremendous pain and suffering that Mr. Thomas endured for days,” James End, one of the attorneys representing Thomas’ family, told the AP. Thomas was arrested in April 2016 after running into Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee and ordering people to “get out” before firing a gun and stuffing poker chips into his pocket. His family said he was having a psychotic episode, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

After he was incarcerated, the water was turned off to his cell as a form of punishment because he had flooded his previous cell by stuffing a mattress in the toilet, according to the AP. The water in his cell was never restored and he died the following week. Thomas’ family filed a lawsuit against former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, members of his staff and the county, and Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc., The Huffington Post reported. The lawsuit stated that staff members ignored Thomas’ signs of distress after shutting off the water, the AP previously reported.

The North Star has reached out to the county’s attorney, Margaret Daun, for comment on the settlement but did not hear back in time for publication. “What happened to Terrill Thomas was a form of torture,” Erik Heipt, another attorney representing Thomas’s family, told HuffPost. “He was a mentally ill man who needed help. Instead, he was deprived of life-sustaining nourishment — water. This is the sort of atrocity that should never happen in an American jail. Ever. There’s no excuse for it.”

Clarke resigned from his position as sheriff in September 2017, but gave no reason for his departure, CNN previously reported. During his time as sheriff, five people, including Thomas, died at Milwaukee County Jail during a six-month period in 2016, the Huffington Post reported.

The former sheriff, who is a known supporter of President Donald Trump, was being considered for a senior position as an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration, but rescinded his acceptance, according to The New York Times. Clarke is now associated with the nonprofit We Build the Wall, a crowdfunding campaign for Trump’s border wall, Politico previously reported.

In March, former Sheriff Major Nancy Evans of the Milwaukee County Jail was sentenced to nine months of house arrest after lying during the Thomas investigation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel previously reported.

Earlier this month, Michigan resident Richard Phillips who spent more than 45 years in prison before he was exonerated in March 2018 was granted a $1.5 million settlement from the state. The Michigan Department of Attorney General’s office announced the settlement on May 17, approximately a year after the 73-year-old was exonerated of murder in 2018.

Phillips was convicted of fatally shooting a man in 1972, CNN previously reported. Harris’ brother-in-law reportedly told authorities during the investigation that he had met with Phillips at a bar to discuss the murder. In 2010, a man named Richard Polombo confessed to killing Harris, according to the news station.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy was given the case to review by the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, according to a statement from the Michigan Department of the Attorney General. Worthy dismissed the homicide charges in March 2018, noting that Phillips life sentence in prison “was based almost entirely on the false testimony of the main witness in the case.”

“This is great news, and was absolutely the right thing to do,” Worthy said in the statement. “I remain thankful that in 2018 we were able to bring some justice to Mr. Phillips. While this compensation will not bring back the 45 years that he unjustly served in prison, it is my sincere hope that it will bring a well-deserved and fulfilling quality of life to him.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.