MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee prosecutors weighing criminal charges for an inmate's dehydration death said Tuesday that the jail's commander failed to inform police about the existence of surveillance video showing a guard shutting off water to the cell and never turning it back on.
The assertion came during the second day of a weeklong inquest by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office to determine whether jail staff should be charged in the April 24, 2016, death of 38-year-old Terrill Thomas. He was alone in his cell for seven days without water, prosecutors say, before dying of what the medical examiner termed "profound dehydration."
A current and a former jail captain both testified Tuesday that the video showed a guard turning off water to the cell on April 17, shortly before Thomas was transferred there after he stuffed a mattress in a toilet to flood the cell he was previously in.
Capt. George Gold testified that his jail commander, Nancy Lee Evans, directed him to review the video the day after Thomas died and report to her what he saw. Gold said after the guard turned off the water he didn't see anyone turn it back on.
"They lock him up and then they never let him out until they take him out dead, correct?" Assistant District Attorney Kurt Bentley asked Gold, who agreed.
Thomas' family has said he was having a mental breakdown when police arrested him April 14, 2016, for shooting a man in front of his parents' house and later firing a gun inside a casino.
Gold said Evans "was very surprised" to hear what the video showed. But when Evans took the stand later Tuesday she denied Gold ever told her about the water being shut off and said it was several months before she became aware that dehydration was the cause of Thomas' death. She denied withholding evidence, but Bentley said Evans failed to direct staff to preserve the entire video and did not mention it to police until almost a year later.
"Why were you withholding this crucial evidence from the Milwaukee Police Department?" Bentley asked.
"I was not, sir," she said.
Police detectives asked her in a questionnaire they sent her last summer if there was any documentation showing whether the water was turned off the whole time or if it was turned on intermittently. The document Evans signed off on answered that "there is no documentation indicating this." However, prosecutors say Evans was aware of the tape and what it showed by then.
Bentley said Evans lied to police detectives last month when she told them it wasn't until months later that she asked Gold to review the surveillance video to check for the water being shut off. Footage is routinely erased after a certain time and by then only the latter half of the video was available.
But Bentley said Evans changed her story and said she directed the review of the video within days after she learned a forensics unit was going to examine the computer server.
The first part of the video has not been recovered.
A jury hearing the evidence will recommend whether prosecutors should file charges, but the decision will be up to the District Attorney's Office.
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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com