The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled on Thursday that the jail cell death of Terrill Thomas was a homicide, Reuters reports.
An autopsy revealed that the African-American inmate, who had bipolar disorder, was profoundly dehydrated. Guards had turned off the water to his cell for several days.
Reuters reported that Thomas’ family said he was having a mental breakdown when police arrested him on April 15 for allegedly shooting a man at a casino. Nine days later, Thomas, 38, was found dead in his cell.
“It’s extremely concerning and seems to confirm some of the information that we had uncovered in the course of our investigation,” Erik Heipt, the attorney representing Thomas’ family, told Fox 6 Now.
Heipt said that a private investigation revealed that guards turned off the water to Thomas’ cell, which the medical examiner also noted in its report.
“There was at least one other inmate, if not two, that became aware that Mr. Thomas’ water had been shut off and was repeatedly urging jail guards to turn the water back on,” the attorney told Fox.
Marcus Berry, an inmate in a cell across from Thomas, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in July that the tap water in Thomas’ cell was shut off the day he was brought to the segregation unit. He said a guard told him that the water was turned off because of Thomas’ erratic behavior in his previous cell. Berry added that the guards ignored him when he urged them to give Thomas some drinking water after the inmate appeared weak.
A separate Journal Sentinel investigation in 2014 found that 10 inmates died in custody of the Sheriff’s Office during a four-year period.
Fox said the Milwaukee police are conducting an investigation to determine whether a crime occurred.