A jury has found probable cause to bring criminal charges against seven jailhouse employees in the dehydration death of Terrill Thomas. As TFTP reported last week, Thomas' death was the subject of an official inquest into the circumstances surrounding the decedent and who, if anyone, might have caused his death. The inquest is over and the jury has determined charges could be filed with probable cause.
Immediately after hearing the advisory verdict, Thomas' family rejoiced over the potential for justice.
Thomas, a mentally ill inmate, had been placed in solitary confinement for seven days. Throughout his time in his jail cell, it was reported not once was he allowed the customary one hour of free time in the yard. Worse still, he wasn't given any water. Apparently, his water had been turned off, no one turned it back on, and he died as a result.
The Milwaukee district attorney John Chisholm will have the final say so as to whether or not charges will officially be filed against the seven who've been identified. We at TFTP will keep you posted with any updates to this story, but it appears justice may indeed be served in Thomas' shameful death, a passing which arguably was entirely preventable.
After hearing from nine jail employees, NBC News reported the jury deliberated for two hours before recommending charges be filed with one simple word, "Yes." The jury's decision that charges can and should be filed will certainly bring some sense that justice will be done, is a welcomed sight.
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"I wouldn't wish this upon my worst enemy...it'll take you away. I feel like I passed away, losing my father. I don't have him anymore. I'm not going to be who I used to be," said Terrill Barns, Thomas' son. The family is also confident Chisholm will follow through with filing charges against the employees who will have to give an account for their alleged dereliction of duty.
Sheriff David Clarke — whose jail Thomas was dehydrated to death in — responded to the inquest saying the following on Facebook:
"This is part of a process. I respect the process. Jury recommendations are just that. The next step in the process is for DA Chisholm to decide if actual charges will be brought forth. There will be no speculation of what will happen until it happens."
Unfortunately, we at TFTP wish it were an isolated incident but it seems jails all across the country are now using water as a reward/punishment. Just this week, we reported on the eerily similar case of Madison Jenson, who may have died from intentional dehydration for not being given intravenous fluids after having diarrhea and nausea for days on end.
Jenson requested medical assistance but never received it. She, too, was neglected. Her father called for everyone in the jail to be fired as well as the sheriff. Jenson's family can rest assured, with the attention Thomas' case is receiving, his lawyers are likely watching very closely to those proceedings and will demand equal attention be given to her case as well.
Although Jenson's death happened in Utah and not in Wisconsin, the news that yet another person has died from dehydration should sound the alarm bells for jails all across the country to at least make sure every inmate's basic needs are being met. That means water for every prisoner, whenever they damn well ask for it. We at TFTP will continue to hold law enforcement accountable for heinous actions such as these.