In what’s been declared the largest jail death settlement in the history of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County has paid nearly $7 million to the family of Terrill Thomas, who died of dehydration in his cell in 2016.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the settlement was initially proposed in January and that the payments—approximately $5 million from the county and an additional $1.7 million from Armor Correctional Health Services—have been made.
Outside of making history in the state of Wisconsin, the settlement is also one of the largest in the entire country, according to the Journal Sentinel.
“This settlement reflects not only the profound harm suffered by Mr. Thomas and his family, but also the shocking nature of the defendants’ misconduct in shutting off this man’s water and ignoring his obvious signs of distress as he literally died of thirst,” the family’s lawyers said in a statement.
In April 2016, during what’s believed to be a psychotic episode, Thomas was jailed after firing two rounds inside of the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. After he was jailed, the water to his cell was cut off and never restored. He was unable to communicate the severity of the problem due to his mental condition and was subsequently found dead in his cell seven days later.
For their roles in his death, three employees at the jail were convicted of prisoner abuse charges while additional charges are pending against Armor Correctional Health Services, who were responsible for providing health care at the jail.
“I’ve been handling jail deaths for 20 years, and have yet to find one contract provider that doesn’t put its private profits ahead of inmates’ health,” Erik Heipt, one of the lawyers representing the Thomas family, said. “Anytime you privatize health care at a jail and expect different results, you’re probably not going to get the results you want.”
At the time of Thomas’ death the jail was being run by then-Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clark Jr., a noted adversary of the Black Lives Matter movement who routinely circumvented police accountability while overseeing a jail in which multiple deaths occurred.
While this hefty settlement won’t return Thomas to his family, their lawyers hope that “this case sends a message to every single jail and prison in America that this type of blatant disregard for human life will not be tolerated.”