A jury recommended on Monday that prosecutors file criminal charges against seven Milwaukee County jail employees over the death of Terrill Thomas, an inmate who the authorities say died of dehydration after going a week without water.
The jury found probable cause to charge the seven staff members, including two supervisors, with felony abuse, according to Erik Heipt, a lawyer representing Mr. Thomas’s estate.
“Nothing like this should ever happen in an American jail,” Mr. Heipt said, “and we’re pleased that justice is taking its course.”
The jury’s inquest began April 24, exactly one year after Mr. Thomas, 38, was found dead in his cell. The Milwaukee County district attorney’s office, which had requested the inquest, is not bound by the recommendation.
In a statement posted online, Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County said he would await the district attorney’s decision.
“This is part of a process,” said Sheriff Clarke, who has gained national prominence as a Fox News regular and an outspoken supporter of President Trump. “I respect the process. Jury recommendations are just that.”
A spokesman for the district attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors and Mr. Heipt say that correction officers turned off the water supply to Mr. Thomas’s isolation cell last April. Mr. Thomas, who had bipolar disorder and needed mental health treatment, was unable to advocate for himself, though other inmates told correction officers that he needed water, Mr. Heipt said. Mr. Thomas also refused to eat jail-provided meals, which were served without drinks, and lost at least 30 pounds, according to Mr. Heipt.
Mr. Thomas was arrested on April 15, 2016, on charges that he shot a man in the chest and fired shots in a Milwaukee casino, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Mr. Heipt said he planned to file a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Thomas’s estate. One of Mr. Thomas’s children has already filed a federal suit against Sheriff Clarke and his staff, according to Fox 6 News in Milwaukee.