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Civil Case Following Death in David Clarke's Jail Settles; Criminal Charges Resolved

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke leaves Trump Tower on November 28, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 31, 2019

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke became somewhat famous for his outspoken support of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and his consideration for a possible post in Trump's Department of Homeland Security. But for those in Milwaukee, and especially those incarcerated in the Milwaukee County House of Correction, Clarke is more infamous than famous.

In the eight years that Clarke oversaw the facility, there were numerous reports of inmate abuse, staff harassment, and five deaths in the jail, including a newborn baby. One of those deceased prisoners, Terrill Thomas, was denied water for six straight days until he died of dehydration. Thomas's family just settled a civil lawsuit against Milwaukee County and the jail's health care contractor for $6.75 million. And three former jail officers are now serving time for their roles in Thomas's death.

Knowingly Sanctioning Torture

According to the Thomas family's lawsuit, other inmates reported hearing him beg for water before his death in April 2016. Clarke allegedly "knowingly sanctioned" the decision to cut off inmates' water supplies as a form of punishment, and the water to Thomas's cell was shut off after he allegedly stuffed a mattress in a toilet to flood the cell. His family claims he was having a mental breakdown at the time he was arrested, about 10 days before his death.

"The amount of pain and suffering that Terrill Thomas went through is really hard to comprehend, and a ton of this is captured on video," one of the attorneys working on the case, James End, told HuffPost. "The amount of suffering that Mr. Thomas went through was just tremendous, and that I think would be recognized by any person who took any time to listen to the facts of this case."

Civil and Criminal Liability

Clarke and the prison staff involved in the incident were dismissed from the civil lawsuit, so the $6.75 million in damages will be split between Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., although it is not clear exactly who will pay how much.

Clarke also escaped criminal charges relating to Thomas's death, perhaps because, according to HuffPost, "Clarke was busy appearing on Fox News and settling sail on a National Review cruise." A grand jury, however, recommended criminal charges against seven Milwaukee County jail staffers, ruling there was probable cause for "abuse of a resident of a penal facility" charges. Three of those officers -- James Ramsey-Guy, Nancy Evans, and Kashka Meadors -- have already been charged and either pleaded no contest or reached plea deals with the county.

As for Clarke, he resigned in August 2017 after releasing a book titled, "Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime and Politics for a Better America."

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