Three staffers from the jail run by conservative firebrand David Clarke, the former Milwaukee County sheriff, were charged Monday with felonies stemming from the dehydration death of a mentally ill inmate who was denied water for a week as punishment for bad behavior.
The charges came less than a year after an inquest jury heard evidence from prosecutors that it was common for employees of the Milwaukee County Jail to cut off water to unruly prisoners in violation of the jail's written regulations, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Lt. Kashka Meadors and correctional officer James Ramsey-Guy are each charged with neglecting an inmate, a felony. Sheriff's Maj. Nancy Evans is charged with felony misconduct in office and misdemeanor obstruction. Clarke, who oversaw the jail until his retirement last August, was not charged in the matter because he was not directly involved.
Prosecutors allege Meadors gave the order to shut off water in 38-year-old Terrill Thomas's solitary confinement cell in April 2016 and that Ramsey-Guy was the jail staffer who physically closed the pipes, according to the Journal Sentinel.
The move was intended to discipline Thomas, who had used his bedding to clog a toilet and flood his jail cell in the special needs unit, where he was initially kept for his bipolar disorder, according to prosecutors. An investigation later showed that he went seven days without any liquid, lost 35 pounds and called out for water before staffers found him dead in his cell. The medical examiner ruled he died from "profound dehydration" and classified it a homicide.
"Our expectation when Mr. Thomas was brought into custody was that he would be kept safe," District Attorney John Chisholm told local media. "The allegations set forth in the criminal complaint document that that did not happen."
Scandal has plagued the Milwaukee County Jail for years, and inmates and their families have long decried what they call mistreatment by jail staff. The tough-talking Clarke retired in August to join a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump. He was known for waking up inmates with bullhorns, eliminating prisoner programs and dishing out harsh punishments to wayward prisoners.
A Journal Sentinel investigation from 2014 found that 10 people had died in Clarke's jail between 2008 and the end of 2013, several of them from health problems that went unattended while they were incarcerated. Some were in jail for minor offenses like traffic violations.
Seven inmates have died in the jail since Thomas' April 2016 death, according to the Journal Sentinel. When three Wisconsin lawmakers called for Clarke to resign over deaths in his jail, he dismissed their criticisms, saying, "Oh stop it with the fake news," according to Fox6.