The death of a black man found severely dehydrated in a Milwaukee jail cell has been ruled a homicide

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Over four months after Terrill Thomas was found dead in his Milwaukee County Jail cell, a medical examiner has ruled his April 24 death a homicide, citing to severe dehydration as the cause.

Thomas, 38, had been arrested on April 15 for a shooting in Milwaukee's Potowatomi Casino. His family claims he was incensed over the the theft of his Mercedes-Benz, and that he had been in the midst of a mental breakdown. Thomas was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports he was awaiting a psychiatric evaluation at the time of his death.


Reports of the medical examiner's findings state that Thomas had been placed in solitary confinement at the Milwaukee County Jail. According to Marcus Berry, a fellow inmate in the jail at the time, the faucet in Thomas' cell had been turned off due to his behavior before having been moved to solitary. Berry also claimed Thomas had refused to eat the Nutriloaf provided to him as a meal.

"I could tell he was getting weaker," Berry told the Journal Sentinel in July. "One day he just lay down, dehydrated and hungry."

Erik Heipt, an attorney for the Thomas family, told that "there was at least one other inmate, if not two, that became aware that Mr. Thomas' water had been shut off and was repeatedly urging jail guards to turn the water back on."

Speaking with the Journal Sentinel, Tiffany Robinson, Thomas' cousin, said the family is considering a civil suit regardless of whether the ME's ruling results in criminal charges. "I never want another family to have to feel like what we feel like right now," she explained.


WDJT reports that Milwaukee police are leading the investigation following the ME's report, and note that the term "homicide" is, in this case, a strictly neutral one that does not necessarily connote criminality. The decision to pursue criminal charges falls on the local district attorney's office.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office, which oversees the jail whree Thomas died, issued this statement:

The MCSO is not conducting this death investigation; has not received any updated findings directly from either the ME; MPD; or DAs Office; and is withholding employee internal investigations and will not be commenting on this matter until the completion of all investigative and review processes, and any resultant civil litigation.


Celia Thomas, Terrill's mother, sees her son's death as an entirely avoidable tragedy.  "Why would you put a person that messed up in jail?" she told the Journal Sentinel, referring to Thomas' psychological instability.

"He shouldn't have been there in the first place," she continued. "He should have been in a mental complex."


The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's report comes just as the family of Sandra Bland settled their wrongful death suit against prison authorities for a reported $1.9 million dollars. Bland was found hanged in her Texas jail cell in 2015, after having been pulled over and arrested following a minor traffic violation.

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