Just a few hours into Terrill Thomas’s eighth day in solitary confinement at the Milwaukee County Jail last year, correction officers found the 38-year-old man on the ground and not moving.
He was dead.
Thomas had spent his final days begging for water, inmates later told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, because jail staff had shut off the flow to the pipes in his cell as punishment for bad behavior.
The cause of death was ultimately ruled “profound dehydration” and the medical examiner classified it a homicide — meaning death at the hands of others — an announcement that drew a torrent of rage from Sheriff David Clarke, a tough-talking and loyal President Trump surrogate.
Still, nearly a year later, no criminal charges have been filed in Thomas’s death.
But an inquest this week by prosecutors could shed more light on the circumstances of the case, whether someone should be held responsible and, if so, who and for what.
The first major court revelation came Monday, when prosecutors told the jury that Thomas had endured seven days without any liquid, lost 35 pounds and grown weak and quiet before he died inside his cell last year, reported the Journal Sentinel.
By the end of the week, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley told jurors they would be asked to answer three questions, according to Fox 6: “What was the cause of Mr. Thomas’ death? Was it the result of criminal activity? And if so, who committed the crime?”
Inquests are relatively rare in the United States.
Under Wisconsin law, an inquest may be ordered by a prosecutor when a death is considered suspicious. Witnesses are subpoenaed and testimony is presented under oath to a jury (as in this case) or to a judge. The judge or jury determines whether a crime has been committed and by whom, but the finding is advisory. A county or district attorney can decide whether to prosecute.
In this case, the “potential crime” that may have been committed is felony abuse of an inmate, prosecutors wrote in a motion filed in March, without indicating who specifically did the abusing.
You can read the rest at the Washington Post.