Last week the Milwaukee County medical examiner announced that Thomas’ death was due to profound dehydration, according to the Journal Sentinel. By labeling the death a homicide, the medical examiner indicated that it was caused by the actions of another person, although that judgment does not necessarily mean that anyone will be criminally prosecuted in the case.
The Milwaukee County Jail is run by Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., an outspoken Trump supporter and critic of the Black Lives Matter movement. Clarke, who is technically a Democrat, has become popular in conservative circles in recent years for his specific criticism of President Barack Obama and more general critiques of liberalism. A recent disclosure form revealed that Clarke took in more than $150,000 in speaking fees, travel reimbursements and gifts in 2015.
Inmates told the Journal Sentinel that the water in Thomas’ cell had been shut off for six days, and one inmate allegedly said to a guard, “If something happens to that man, it’s your fault.”
“No one should ever die of dehydration. It just should never happen,” Erik J. Heipt, a lawyer for the Thomas family, told The Huffington Post. Heipt has represented the families of a number of individuals who lost their lives in jail, including a 25-year-old man who died of dehydration and malnutrition in a Island County Jail in Washington state.
“They may well have had reason to turn off the water. There absolutely could be reasons why you’d want to turn off someone’s water in their cell. But to then not give them drinking water? That’s crazy,” Heipt said. “To make a human being die of thirst, where they have no ability to get their own water for survival, that’s pretty inhumane. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
Heipt said he has received calls from other former inmates of the Milwaukee County Jail who said the water to their cells had been cut off, too. In fact, another inmate, Antonio Cowser, died in 2011 after water to his cell was turned off.
“They could have gave him some water,” Thomas’ mother Celia told the Journal Sentinel.
Clarke’s office issued a press release stating that it will not be commenting on the death until all investigations, as well as any civil lawsuits, have ended.