Family of Inmate Who Died After Water Was Shut Off for a Week Gets $6.75 Million Settlement

By Zachary Stieber

The family of a Wisconsin inmate who died after the water in his cell was turned off for a week received a $6.75 million settlement.

The payment came after Terrill Thomas, 38, died of dehydration in April 2016 at the Milwaukee County Jail.

Milwaukee County paid $5 million and Armor Correctional Health Services, a company that was under contract to provide medical care for inmates at the jail, paid $1.75 million, according to the Milwaukee 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 lawyers representing the family said in a joint statement.

The statement said they “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.”

The settlement is the largest for a jail death in state history, the family’s lawyers said.

Erik Heipt, a Seattle-based attorney who helped represent the family, told the Associated Press that the money would be split among Thomas’ six children.

Heipt said that a trial could have yielded a larger payment.

“What happened to him was a form of torture,” Heipt. “This sort of atrocity should never happen at an American jail. There’s no excuse for it.”

jail south carolina
A jail cell in a 2018 file photo. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Water Shut Off

Thomas was originally arrested after firing a gun in a casino and yelling at people to “get out” while stealing poker chips. Responding police officers found him and he dropped the gun into a trash can.

An investigation after Thomas’ body was found showed that the water had been turned off to his jail cell and never restored. His family said he had mental problems, which prevented him from communicating that the water was no longer on.

Three people have been sentenced in relation to the death.

Kashka Meadors, a former supervisor at the jail, allegedly ordered James Ramsey-Guy, a correctional officer at the time, to turn off the water as punishment for flooding his cell.

Meadors pleaded no contest to a felony charge of “abuse of residents of penal facilities,” and she was found guilty, reported Fox 6.

She was sentenced to 60 days in jail in February. “If the family was here, I would address the family and tell them how sorry that I am. I have lived with this since day one,” she said in court in an apology.

From left to right, Nancy Evans, Kashka Meadors, James Ramsey-Guy were sentenced in relation to the death of Terrill Thomas, who died from dehydration in April 2016 after water was shut off to his jail cell for a week. (Milwaukee County Jail)

Ramsey-Guy was sentenced to 30 days in jail in March for obstructing an officer after pleading no contest to the charge.

“It is something I carry with me every day—something I think about constantly, and I am sorry,” said Ramsey-Guy during his sentencing hearing, reported Fox 6.

“More consideration should have been given to Thomas, and the opposite happened,” Judge Joseph Wall said. “He obstructed the investigation—a very serious investigation.”

Nancy Evans, a former commander at the jail, was sentenced to nine months in jail in March after being convicted of felony misconduct for lying to investigators.

Judge Joseph Wall said in the sentencing that Evans could serve the sentence in an alternative facility or at home with electronic monitoring. She was likely to serve it as house arrest, reported the Journal-Sentinel.

While Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley suggested that Evans’ leadership led to the death, the outlet reported, the judge “disagreed with the prosecutor’s assertion that Evans essentially tried to cover up a homicide, and he repeatedly stated that none of her acts or omissions led to Thomas’ death.”

Evans in a statement said she regretted the death but didn’t take any responsibility for the death.