By Tom James

(Reuters) – Prosecutors have begun investigating the 2016 death of a mentally ill man who died of dehydration in a Milwaukee-area jail run by conservative Sheriff David Clarke, local media reported.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office opened an inquest Monday in Milwaukee County Circuit Court into the death of Terrill Thomas, 38, who was found unresponsive in the Milwaukee County Jail on April 24, 2016, after seven days without water, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. In September 2016 a county medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

The inquest allows prosecutors to question witnesses under oath and present evidence to an advisory jury and is part of a process of deciding whether and against whom to file charges.

Officials with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office could not be reached to comment.

Clarke, who as sheriff of Milwaukee County heads the agency responsible for the jail, could not be reached for comment, but in January defended conditions in the facility following Journal-Sentinel stories about medical positions going unfilled in the county’s jail system.

Clark, who often appears on conservative news outlets and spoke at the Republican National Conventions on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential bid, said the media and Democrats lied about the jail.

In the case of Thomas, surveillance videos show three guards cutting off the drinking water supply to the cell housing the inmate, the Journal-Sentinel reported, citing Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley’s opening statement on Monday.

The newspaper previously reported that inmates near Thomas heard him beg for days for water before his death. The newspaper said corrections officers told other inmates Thomas’ water had been shut off because he had flooded his previous cell and his behavior was erratic.

Thomas had been arrested nine days before his death, charged with shooting a man in the chest and later firing two shots inside a casino in the midst of what family members told local media was a mental breakdown. He was being held pending a pre-trial mental competency evaluation.

(Reporting by Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Ben Klayman and Bill Trott)