While former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke continues his career as a rightwing noisemaker, three officers at the jail he ran like a medieval horror chamber have been charged in the 2016 death of an inmate whose water was turned off for over a week to punish him for having flooded his previous cell. The former commander of the Milwaukee County Jail, Sheriff’s Maj. Nancy Evans, is the highest-ranking person charged; two of her officers, Lt. Kashka Meadors and correctional officer James Ramsey-Guy, were also charged. No, not with negligent homicide, silly. Evans is facing a felony charge for misconduct in office and with “obstructing an officer” for trying to cover up her role in the inmate’s death, and the other two were charged with neglecting an inmate, also a felony.
The inmate, Terrill Thomas, was arrested in April 2016 after shooting a man and later causing a disturbance in a casino where he fired a gun, yelled at others to “get out,” and started filling his pockets with poker chips. When police arrived, he tossed his gun into a trash can and was taken off to jail. His family believes he was suffering a psychotic breakdown and said he had bipolar disorder. Once in jail, he flooded his first cell by stuffing his mattress cover into the toilet and flushing it.
When he was moved to a new cell, Meadors ordered Ramsey-Guy to turn off the water to the cell, and the water was never turned on again. Thomas was left alone in the cell with no water until he died.
“He was literally punished for the manifestations of his mental illness,” said Erik Heipt, a lawyer for Mr. Thomas’s estate who has filed a federal lawsuit against Milwaukee County and jail officials. “He was not in his right mind. You don’t take someone like that and then punish them by turning off their water.”
After Thomas died, Maj. Evans got right to investigating, kind of: She had a guard review the previous week’s security video showing Thomas’s cell and the controls outside; that confirmed the water had never been turned on again, but oopsies, Evans didn’t do anything to preserve the video evidence, and it was eventually recorded over. Evans is accused of lying repeatedly during the investigation — to her supervisors, to investigators, and even during an inquest into Thomas’s death that was held last year. That’s the “interfering with an officer” charge. Yr Wonkette is not a lawyer, but we’re wondering why she didn’t also catch a charge for obstruction of justice, and maybe perjury, too, since the inquest was a formal judicial process. In any case, she could face up to four years in prison, where she would actually be provided with water and other luxuries, like food.
For her part, Lt. Meadors said during the inquest that she’d only meant for the water in Thomas’s cell to be shut off until he had calmed down; she later testified that she’d only wanted the toilet water shut off, yeah, that’s it:
“I was under the impression that it was taken care of, and as well, I briefed my supervisor,” Meadors said at the inquest.
Ramsey-Guy testified he only shut off Thomas’ cold water and left on the hot water — even though investigators found the entire water system off. Ramsey-Guy said he expected another officer on the jail wing, John Weber, to document the shutoff.
“I was the one that turned the water off, so the officer at the desk was the one who was supposed to log it,” Ramsey-Guy said.
Weber, in turn, testified he didn’t know who issued the order or cut off the water.
Oh, those wacky little comedies of errors that leave someone dead. Things happen, you know? Let he who hasn’t absent-mindedly caused a mentally ill inmate to die of slow painful dehydration cast the first stone, we say. Thomas’s family has said since shortly after his death that when he acted erratically, jail officials punished him instead of getting him mental health treatment.
Acting Sheriff Richard Schmidt, who took over after Clarke abruptly resigned last year, suspended the three with pay Monday; they had already been shifted to desk duties prior to that. Schmidt said a decision on discipline against them — separate from the criminal charges — would likely be made as soon as Friday. He also said that since Clarke left, he’s “very confident” new leadership at the jail has “transformed” the place, where seven inmates (and one prisoner’s newborn baby) have died since Thomas did, most during Clarke’s tenure. You have to understand, though, he was very busy bringing Law and Order to the world by being on Fox News all the time.
The complaint against the three jail officers says that while cutting off water to inmates’ cells violated written jail policy, it was a common practice, and even in the weeks after Thomas died, water to two other inmates’ cells was shut off. The complaint called punitively depriving troublesome inmates of water a “pattern and practice” at the jail, which the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes is “often used to refer to potential federal civil rights violations.” So it’s not inconceivable that’s a little hint to the feds.
Asked Monday if any jail staff are still in the practice of shutting off water to inmates, Schmidt said: “That deals specifically with this case so I think we’ll pass on that particular question today.”
Hmm. That’s a transformation? Might want to be a little more definite about following your own rules.
Since charges were announced Monday against his former jail staff, David Clarke has been busy Tweeting about the evils of rap music, liberals accusing conservatives of “hate speech,” and the Democrat Party’s cruelty in “keeping black kids shackled to failing K-12 ghetto public schools” by opposing school choice. He also attended a White House celebration of Black History Month.