Police Abuse

$6.75 Million Awarded to the Family of a Milwaukee Jail Inmate Who Died From Dehydration

The jail, which saw several deaths, was overseen by former Sheriff David Clarke at the time.


Three years after his death in a Milwaukee jail, the family of Terrill Thomas has received some small comfort in the form of a $6.75 million settlement.

Thomas was arrested and jailed in April 2016 after being charged for shooting a man. At the time, his lawyer expressed concern to a judge that the 38-year-old suffered from mental health issues. Despite this warning, guards were ordered to shut off the water in Thomas's cell after he flooded a previous cell. A fellow inmate urged guards to bring Thomas water, but the inmate was told he would need to alert the next guard on duty. Thomas died from dehydration after going at least six days without water. He never received his court-ordered mental health evaluation.

On Wednesday of this week, Thomas' family received approximately $5 million from Milwaukee County and $1.7 million from Armor Correctional Health Services. This is believed to be the largest settlement for a jail death in the history of Wisconsin.

At the time of Thomas' death, the Milwaukee County jail system was run by then-Sheriff David Clarke. Clarke resigned in 2017, but not before several inmates and a newborn baby died in his jails. Clarke has made a name for himself since then as a voice for law and order. He also regularly criticizes efforts to reform the criminal justice system. 

In 2014, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published an investigation into the deaths of 18 people who perished while in custody of Milwaukee law enforcement.