Criminal Justice

Sheriff David Clarke’s jail employees should be charged in inmate’s dehydration death, jury says

The controversy long surrounding Sheriff David Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail is growing — even as Clarke is reportedly being considered by President Donald Trump for a top spot at the Department of Homeland Security.

On Monday, a jury recommended that two supervisors and five officers at the jail face felony charges for their complicity in the death of 38-year-old inmate Terrill Thomas. Thomas, who lawyers say suffered from bipolar disorder, died from dehydration in April 2016 after he was allegedly deprived of water for seven straight days at the direction of jail officials. The jury heard from witnesses that jail officials also shut off water for two other inmates in the weeks following Thomas’ death.

“This is part of a process,” Clarke said of the jury’s decision in a statement. “I respect the process. Jury recommendations are just that.”

The Milwaukee District Attorney must now decide whether to bring charges against the seven jail employees, one of whom, according to the Sheriff’s Office, “suddenly resigned over the weekend.”

The disturbing details emerging from the probe into Thomas’ death come as the White House reportedly considers Clarke for a DHS position, according to Politico. Clarke was a vocal supporter of Trump during the presidential campaign and spoke at the Republican National Convention.

A staunch conservative, Clarke has labeled Black Lives Matter a “terror group” and called for citizens to arm themselves because “simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option.”

Though Gov. Scott Walker has said he will not remove Clarke from office over the incident, local civic leaders are reportedly unhappy with the sheriff’s reluctance to address Thomas’ in-custody death.

“I have nearly 1,000 inmates,” Clarke told the Associated Press in April when asked about the incident. “I don’t know all their names, but is this the guy who was in custody for shooting up the Potawatomi casino, causing one man to be hit by gunfire? The media never reports that in stories about him. If that is him, then at least I know who you are talking about.”

Thomas’ death is the highest-profile legal controversy at the jail, but it’s hardly the only one. Melissa Hall filed a federal lawsuit in March claiming that she was forced to give birth while shackled, per jail policy. The lawsuit is seeking class action status; at least 40 other women also claim to have given birth as inmates while they were restrained.

Another woman, Jennifer Jawson, is suing the jail and Sheriff’s Office for what she says was their complicity in her unborn baby’s death. According to the lawsuit, Jawson, who was more than eight months pregnant, told jail personnel that she was experiencing severe cramping and contractions, but they ignored her complaints. They also allegedly refused to give her daily doses of methadone, the medically recommended treatment for opioid-addicted pregnant women, and instead gave her Tylenol 3, which contains codeine, a drug her lawsuit claims can endanger the health of the baby when taken in the third trimester.

After a week of allegedly ignoring Jawson’s complaints, jail officials were unable to detect a fetal heartbeat and took her to a hospital, where doctors determined that her baby had died. The $8.5 million suit accuses Clarke’s office of being “deliberately indifferent to the health, welfare, and life” of Jawson and her baby.

When asked about the lawsuit by local conservative radio host Dan O’Donnell, Clarke called it “nothing more than fake-news jihad that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has against me and it’s been going on for quite some time.”

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