MILWAUKEE -- A former Milwaukee jail deputy who shut off water to an inmate's cell, leading to his dehydration death, was sentenced Thursday to 30 days in prison but will be able to go to work during that time.
Milwaukee County Judge Joseph Wall said he considered James Lee Ramsey-Guy's lack of criminal history and community involvement in handing down the sentence, which was part of a plea agreement. Wall noted that Ramsey-Guy, 39, was following a supervisor's order and that the death of 38-year-old Terrill Thomas in 2016 was a "systemic failure" at the jail.
Ramsey-Guy was one of three county jail staffers charged in Thomas' death. At the time, the jail was overseen by conservative firebrand Sheriff David Clarke, who has since left to join a political action committee in support of President Donald Trump. Clarke was not charged because he wasn't directly involved in Thomas' death.
A lawsuit and evidence from prosecutors allege that staff ignored Thomas' signs of distress during the week he spent in jail without water. He lost more than 10 percent of his body weight while there, according to the lawsuit.
"I'm sorry that Mr. Thomas lost his life," Ramsey-Guy said before he was sentenced. "It's something I carry with me every day, it's something I think about constantly, and I'm sorry."
Ramsey-Guy's former supervisor, Kashka Meadors, ordered that Thomas' water be turned off because he had flooded his last cell by stuffing a mattress in the toilet. 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.
Meadors, who's no longer employed at the jail, was sentenced last month to 60 days in prison, also with work-release privileges. Former jail Cmdr. Nancy Lee Evans is scheduled for sentencing March 22.
All three former staffers reached plea deals that reduced the severity of the charges they initially faced. Evans will be sentenced on felony official misconduct. Meadors was sentenced for abuse of a resident of a penal facility, and Ramsey-Guy's conviction is for misdemeanor resisting or obstructing an officer.
Prosecutor Kurt Benkley called Ramsey-Guy "a good man" with an excellent work history.
"But in the end what we're left with is a situation where he acted in a careless manner," he said, adding that Ramsey-Guy "displayed a certain level of insensitivity to the humanity of those inmates that he was charged with caring for."