TJ Thomas’s son died in police custody last year, but he didn’t know the amount of torment he had been in before passing away.
38-year-old Terrill Thomas was held the Milwaukee County Jail on shooting charges. The jail is run by Sheriff David Clarke, known for making national headlines. Thomas was kept in solitary and went through a traumatizing week without being given any water until he died.
On Tuesday, TJ Thomas gave an interview to NBC News where he said: “They didn’t give him water. He needed water.”
According to attorney Erik Heipt, who is representing the Thomas estate, in April 2016 Terrill Thomas died of “profound dehydration” after being in solitary for seven days. He passed away during the early hours of his eighth day.
Thomas said that despite having the right of a phone call, his family didn’t hear from him from the time of his arrest till his death.
A report by the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel stated that on Monday prosecutors have launched an inquest to determine whether staffers at the jail should be charged for turning off the water in Thomas’ cell or not.
The inquest, which is expected to last five days, will let prosecutors question the witnesses under oath in front of a jury while they determine which legal charges might or should be filed. According to the Journal Sentinel, it hasn’t been indicated by the prosecution who they are might be considering to charge in the death of Terrill Thomas’.
On Monday, TJ Thomas didn’t go to court. He said: “It’s been hard, you know what I mean. One reason we haven’t been going to that inquest going on now, it’s like bringing all that up. I can’t deal with it.”
Torture by food and water:
Kurt Benkley, Assistant District Attorney, said at court that there’s a surveillance video which shows that three correctional officers turned off the water in the cell of Terrill Thomas. They also didn’t report the fact that the water was turned off.
Heipt said that nothing like this should occur in an American prison. He added that the only food they gave to Terrill Thomas was nutraloaf, which, according to Heipt, is meant to be revolting. “It’s a way of using food and nourishment as punishment, which I have a problem with,” Heipt said.
He added: “Everyone [involved] should be held accountable, even if it was the county’s policy that lead to something like this. It wasn’t just a problem with jail guards. It was also systemic failure.”
Marcus Berry, an inmate who was in a close cell, stated that he shouted and asked Terrill Thomas if he was in need of water, Terrill Thomas tried to respond by saying something similar to “yes”, according to Berry.
Berry confronted the correctional officer who he claims didn’t give Terrill Thomas water and told him: “If something happens to that man, it’s your fault,” just hours before he died.
Mental health issues:
According to TJ Thomas, his son had mental health problems, for which he tried to get him help.
Numerous times prior to Terrill Thomas’ death, he requested help from police regarding his son’s mental health. However, every time he got the same reply; there’s nothing the police can do.
According to Heipt, Terrill Thomas showed indicative signs of mental illness, and he wasn’t able to request basic needs. He said: “He was punished for the manifestation of his mental illness. He was not operating in world of reality. Instead of treating his mental health needs, the jail punished him for mental illness.”
The Associated Press reported that the Thomas family submitted a federal lawsuit claiming that Terrill Thomas was “subjected to a form of torture.”
Heipt said the federal civil rights lawsuit will be filed, no matter what the outcome of the inquest may be.