President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke -- a frequent Fox News guest -- to head the Department of Homeland Security. In April, an inmate in Sheriff Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail was found dead of “profound dehydration.” Since that incident, three other individuals, including a newborn infant, have died in Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail, but in more than 40 prime-time appearances on Fox News since the first reported death, Clarke has not once been asked about the disturbing trend of people dying in his jail. Clarke’s tenure as Milwaukee County Sheriff has been filled with controversy and legal action, and on Fox News and Twitter, Clarke has a history of using incendiary rhetoric directed at government officials and protesters.
Sheriff David Clarke Reportedly Being Considered For Department Of Homeland Security
President-Elect Trump Is Reportedly Considering Clarke For Head Of DHS. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is reportedly being considered for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security by the incoming Trump administration. According to CNN, Clarke, a Trump surrogate during the presidential campaign, is known for his “tough on crime positions and unapologetically blunt comments.” Clarke said he will accept the position if offered, but is “not expecting anything.” From a November 11 CNN.com article:
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said in an interview Thursday he was open to serving in the Trump administration if a position was offered.
Clarke was a surrogate for Trump during the presidential campaign and is known for his tough on crime positions and unapologetically blunt comments. Clarke, who is African American, also made news during the campaign for his opposition to Black Lives Matter activists, whom he predicted would join forces with ISIS.
BuzzFeed and Politico reported that Clarke is under consideration to become the next secretary of Homeland Security. [CNN.com, 11/11/16]
Trump Met With Clarke In New York On November 28. According to ABC’s Milwaukee affiliate, WISN, Clarke met with Trump on November 28 at Trump Tower. According to the report, “Clarke answered no questions from reporters when he left the building,” but “is on a list of prospective hires in the new administration.” [ABC, WISN, 11/28/16]
At Least Four People Have Died While In Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail
An Inmate Died Of “Profound Dehydration” In Clarke’s Jail. According to the Huffington Post, a suspect in a shooting died of “profound dehydration” in a Milwaukee County Jail cell, nine days after being arrested. The inmate’s death was ruled a homicide, meaning that while no one may be prosecuted, his death was “caused by the actions of another person.” The Huffington Post reported that other inmates heard the 38 year-old “beg for water in the days before he died.” From the September 19 article:
Authorities have ruled the death of an inmate at a jail run by a top law enforcement supporter of GOP nominee Donald Trump a homicide caused by “profound dehydration.”
Terrill Thomas, 38, was found dead in a Milwaukee County Jail cell on April 24, nine days after being arrested in connection with a shooting. Other inmates heard Thomas beg for water in the days before he died, the Journal Sentinel reported in July.
Last week the Milwaukee County medical examiner announced that Thomas’ death was due to profound dehydration, according to the Journal Sentinel. By labeling the death a homicide, the medical examiner indicated that it was caused by the actions of another person, although that judgment does not necessarily mean that anyone will be criminally prosecuted in the case.
The Milwaukee County Jail is run by Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., an outspoken Trump supporter and critic of the Black Lives Matter movement. Clarke, who is technically a Democrat, has become popular in conservative circles in recent years for his specific criticism of President Barack Obama and more general critiques of liberalism. A recent disclosure form revealed that Clarke took in more than $150,000 in speaking fees, travel reimbursements and gifts in 2015.
Inmates told the Journal Sentinel that the water in Thomas’ cell had been shut off for six days, and one inmate allegedly said to a guard, “If something happens to that man, it’s your fault.” [Huffington Post, 9/19/16]
Former Inmate Alleges Her Newborn Child Died In Clarke’s Jail After Staff Ignored Her Labor. According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a former inmate at Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail alleged that “a corrections officer laughed off her request for medical help as she went into labor, contributing to her newborn's death in a jail cell in July.” The former inmate claims that she “told a corrections officer her water broke and she was going into labor, but the officer laughed and ignored her.” Clarke’s office issued a statement, claiming the inmate “never told jail staff she was going into labor.” From the November 16 article:
A former inmate at the Milwaukee County Jail says a corrections officer laughed off her request for medical help as she went into labor, contributing to her newborn's death in a jail cell in July.
Swayzer's lawyer, Jason Jankowski, wrote in the notice of claim that Swayzer told a corrections officer her water broke and she was going into labor, but the officer laughed and ignored her. Swayzer said she told the officer that she was going into labor around midnight, gave birth at about 4 a.m., and finally received attention from officers at 6 a.m. Her child was pronounced dead later that day, although it's unclear at what time.
In a statement issued days after the baby's death, the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office said Swayzer never told jail staff she was going into labor. The company responsible for medical care at the jail said previously that Swayzer's child was stillborn. However, Swayzer says her child was “born alive, cried profusely and was breastfed.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11/16/16]
Two Others Have Died While In The Custody Of The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office. According to Fusion, two other adults have died in Clarke’s jail. In August, “38-year-old Kristina A. Fiebrink was found unresponsive and declared dead in her cell.” In October, “Michael J. Madden, 29, was also found dead at the jail house.” From the November 17 article:
Since April, four people have died while in custody at the Milwaukee County Jail. Two of them were 38 years old. One was 29. And one was a newborn baby. Now, the mother of that baby is demanding that the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office pay $8.5 million dollars, claiming that jail officials ignored her requests for medical attention as she prepared to give birth.
In late August, 38-year-old Kristina A. Fiebrink was found unresponsive and declared dead in her cell. She had reportedly been arrested for resisting and obstructing an officer. Two months later, Michael J. Madden, 29, was also found dead at the jail house. He had been arrested the previous month on theft and drug-related charges. The causes of both Fiebrink and Madden’s death have not been made public. [Fusion, 11/17/16]
In More Than Forty Prime-Time Appearances On Fox News, Clarke Has Never Been Asked About Inmates Dying In His Jail
Sheriff Clarke Has Appeared On Fox News’ Prime-Time Programs More Than 40 Times Since The First Inmate’s Death In April And Has Not Received Any Questions About Inmates Dying In His Jail. According to a Media Matters analysis of Nexis transcripts of Fox News’ prime-time programs, Clarke has appeared on the network more than 40 times since the death of one of his inmates in April and did not receive a single question regarding inmates dying in his jail. [Nexis.com, accessed 11/29/16]
Clarke’s Tenure As Milwaukee County Sheriff Is Riddled With Controversy, Legal Action, And Inflammatory Rhetoric
The Atlantic: “Clarke Eliminated Nearly All Programs For Prisoners … And Woke Prisoners Up With Bullhorns” Before The County Board Took Back Control Of Facility. A May 6 Atlantic profile of Clarke highlights his extreme positions and how that has been reflected in the management of his Milwaukee jails. The profile noted that for Clarke, rehabilitation is “‘not something for the criminal-justice system to do’” and that he subsequently eliminated almost all jail programs except for a boot camp, and woke his inmates up with bullhorns. The county board has since taken back control of the jail, and “increased job-training and GED programs.” The profile went into extensive detail about Clarke’s relationship with other county board members, including the county executive, whom Clarke accused of being a heroin addict and having “penis envy” after making budget cuts. The Atlantic’s Maurice Chammah wrote that he contacted numerous country leaders who declined to comment, for fear of “‘retribution’” by Clarke. [The Atlantic, 5/6/16]
The Atlantic: “Clarke’s Attitudes Illustrate Why” Wisconsin Has Highest U.S. Incarceration Rate Among African-Americans. According to an October 30, study by City Lab, a project of The Atlantic, Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate of African-American men, which the study ties to Clarke’s anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric. The study highlighted Clarke’s denial of police brutality, and his comments that Black Lives Matter will eventually merge with ISIS. From the October 30 study:
If Clarke makes a fitting avatar for the worst place for African Americans to live, it’s not just because of his disparaging views about Black Lives Matter, but because his county happens to incarcerate more black lives than anywhere else in America. In fact, Wisconsin’s reputation as the top state for African American incarceration per capita is owed, in large part, to Milwaukee County and Clarke’s methods of policing it. [The Atlantic, 10/30/15]
Clarke Spent Thousands On Horses, Workout Gear, Disney Training, And Flat Screen TVs For Police. According to a September 28, 2012, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, Clarke’s office spent over $800,000 on amenities including workout equipment for his staff. Under the national asset forfeiture program, property taken during a drug raid can be “used to compensate victims and deter crime.” While Clarke did not break the law, he received criticism for the purchases which he claimed was out of a “desire to gain control of the forfeiture funds”:
The Milwaukee County sheriff's office has used funds from crime asset forfeitures to buy workout equipment for Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.'s command staff, customer training for 50 employees through a Disney program and a mounted patrol unit, a county audit released Friday shows.
Under the national asset forfeiture program, property seized in drug raids and other crimes can be used to compensate victims and deter crime. The sheriff's office fund provided more than $800,000 since 2008.
None of the spending violated federal rules governing asset forfeiture money, but it did run afoul of county procurement rules, the audit said.
The tab for the workout gear came to $11,400; the Disney Destinations training cost $24,900; and more than $77,000 went for horse rental, boarding and transport for the sheriff's mounted patrol. A $43,000 Dodge Ram pickup bought in 2008 to haul the horses was the largest portion of the mounted patrol spending from the fund, the report says.
The funds also have paid for a wide assortment of vehicles and watercraft, uniforms and equipment, including $8,200 for nine flat-screen televisions for top sheriff command staff and $12,340 for “high performance metal detectors” to screen deputies and other sheriff's employees before meetings with Clarke for disciplinary hearings, the report says.
Of the funds, $115,000 was given to community groups. Clarke said attention should focus on those donations and not on his equipment purchases or mounted patrol. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/28/12]
PolitiFact Rated 72 Percent Of Clarke’s Statements “Mostly False.” The fact-checking website PolitiFact rated 72 percent of Clarke’s statements since he was appointed in 2002 either “false” or “mostly false,” including his statement that he has balanced every budget since his appointment. Only one of his statements (9 percent of the total) was rated “mostly true” and two (18 percent) were rated “half true.” None of Clarke’s statements were rated “true.” [PolitiFact, accessed 11/15/16] *
Clarke Called Protesters “Primitive” And “Subhuman.” On the September 21 edition of Fox News’ Your World With Neil Cavuto, Clarke slammed protests in the wake of a shooting in Charlotte, North Carolina. Clarke claimed the officers “were under attack,” and that the protesters showed “at best primitive behavior, and at worst ... subhuman behavior as people just reacted to circumstances.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 9/21/16]
Clarke Was Given Sheriff Of The Year Award By Extremist Group. In 2013, Constitutional Sheriffs And Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) recognized Clarke as “sheriff of the year,” a distinction Clarke said he was “both honored and humbled to receive.” After a May 15 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article scrutinized the group behind the award, Clarke said that the paper disparaged CSPOA, “a group of honorable Sheriffs and officers who vow to uphold their oath of defending the U.S. Constitution,” and had published a “hit piece” on CSPOA leader Richard Mack. For his part, Mack has praised Clarke as “a modern-day hero”:
Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. recently announced that he had been named the “sheriff of the year” for 2013 by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.
Clarke put out a press release saying he was “both honored and humbled” by the award, which will be given out at a convention later this month.
The Southern Poverty Law Center - an Alabama-based nonprofit that tracks hate groups - has accused Mack of espousing “radical-right” views and trying to create a “nation of county sheriffs who believe the government is the enemy.” Mack's group got some media attention when it compiled a list of more than 400 sheriffs who vowed not to enforce President Barack Obama's gun control measures. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/15/13]
* This piece has been corrected. It originally said that PolitiFact had rated 1 percent of Clarke's statements “mostly true” and 2 percent “half true.” In fact, it rated one statement (9 percent of the total checked) “mostly true” and two statements (18 percent) “half true.”