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Death Behind Bars

Earlier this week, World Wrestling  Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame wrestler Jerry Lawler filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Tennessee County as well as the local Sheriff, alleging numerous failures and wrongdoing which resulted in his son’s death last year.

Brian Lawler had been arrested on suspicion of DUI and evading authorities in July 2018. According to the claim, Mr. Lawler was assaulted while in custody by an inmate and suffered “a significant open wound above his eye” and a possible concussion. Corrections officers then placed him into solitary confinement, where he hanged himself. According to the claim, officers had to use children’s scissors in an attempt to save Mr. Lawler. His father is seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages for “the numerous failures of the county and its employees that resulted in the wrongful death of his son,” according to his lawyers in a statement. This lawsuit follows on the heels of other suits involving inmates who died while in custody, including one of the largest settlements in connection with a jail death in the United States. 

Terrill Thomas, a 38-year-old man, was arrested after firing a gun in a casino. Mr. Thomas’s family members describe him as suffering from bipolar disorder and having a psychotic break at the time he fired the gun. He was taken into custody, but rather than given psychiatric treatment, he was punished for exhibiting erratic behavior. He was placed in an isolation cell and the water to the cell was shut off. 

Mr. Thomas was left in the cell for days. He was provided with food (a “nutraloaf “- a foodstuff so dry that dust from it set off his cell’s fire alarm) but never given any water. According to the lawsuit filed by his family, other inmates became aware of his struggles and tried to alert guards. He was found dead in his cell a week later, after he lost 34 pounds during the eight days total in custody, according to the lawsuit. His ultimate cause of death was dehydration. The family of Mr. Thomas was awarded $6.75 million in a lawsuit against Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services, a company that was contracted to provide medical care for inmates. Additionally, three jail employees were convicted for their roles in Mr. Thomas’ death, and criminal charges are pending against Armor Correctional Health Services.

A lawyer for the family who spoke to NPR stated, “Too many Americans die each year in our county jails because of abuse and neglect. … Hopefully, this case serves as a wake-up call to government and corporate officials that operate our nation’s jails.”

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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