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Opinion A David Clarke dossier

(Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters)

Controversial Milwaukee County (Wis.) Sheriff David Clarke says he is joining the Department of Homeland Security to head up the Office of Partnership and Engagement. That agency oversees partnerships and cooperation with local law enforcement agencies. It’s responsible for coordinating a number of anti-terrorism initiatives between local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as forging partnerships with academia and the private sector.

DHS has said that “such senior positions are announced by the department when made official by the secretary. No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.” But President Trump has been rumored to be considering Clarke for a DHS position for months. He had even been mentioned to possibly run the agency.

The position is something of a bailout for Clarke, who faced long odds to be reelected sheriff. If true, it would also be a rather reckless move, even for the Trump administration. Clarke is currently the subject of a number of lawsuits alleging abuse and neglect at his jail and has recently made headlines by detaining an airline passenger, allegedly for shaking his head at Clarke (he later threatened the man on Facebook). He also recently boasted he would grab Democrats by the throat.

In any case, if you’d like to get to know your possible new DHS assistant secretary, here’s a rundown of all things David Clarke.

Clarke’s Jail

As Maurice Chammah wrote at the Atlantic last year, Clarke has been known to wake up the inmates in his jail with bullhorns. He’s a fan of serving inmates “nutraloaf,” a tasteless food concoction that takes the joy out of eating. He has railed against grants to reduce racial disparities in incarceration and even to help solve homicides as “criminal coddling.”

A February 2014 investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that 10 people had died in Clarke’s jail between 2008 and the end of 2013. Among them:

  • Antonio Cowser, who died of “complications of a psychotic disorder” after being arrested on a traffic violation. Guards had turned off Carver’s access to water.
  • Natalie Guyton, who died of a drug overdose after being arrested on a probation violation. She had complained about chest pain. A doctor ordered a ultrasound that was never done.
  • Jessie James Harris, who died of a heart attack after being arrested for “obstructing police.” There was no mention of his diabetes or his history of heart disease in the jail’s medical records.
  • Paul Heytens, who killed himself after a drunken-driving arrest. He had been prescribed anti-depressants that the jail never gave him. Guards were supposed to be doing 30-minute checks. He was dead for 11 hours before they found him.
  • Virgilio Jimenez, who died of a heart attack after an arrest for various misdemeanors. Again, guards were supposed to be checking on him every 30 minutes. He was dead for six hours before they found him.

That report didn’t seem to improve conditions at the jail. Last year saw four deaths in six months at the jail, a rate about three times the national average. One of those who died was a newborn. According to a lawsuit filed by the baby’s mother, she repeatedly informed guards that she was going into labor at around midnight. She claims they laughed at her. She gave birth in her cell alone at around 4 a.m, and still didn’t receive medical attention for another two hours. Clarke, a staunch opponent of abortion, hasn’t publicly addressed the infant’s death. A subsequent lawsuit has alleged that at least 40 pregnant women were forced to wear “belly chains” and shackles in Clarke’s jail while they were in labor.

In April 2016, Terrill Thomas was found dead in Clarke’s jail. His death was ruled a homicide. An autopsy revealed that he died of “profound dehydration.” The Milwaukee County medical examiner later said that after his office released that information, Clarke called him up, “verbally pummeled,” “threatened” him and vowed to have his medical license revoked. In a move rather fitting of someone about to join the Trump administration, one of Clarke’s aides then told a reporter that Clarke had recorded the phone call and implied that the tapes would prove Clarke had never threatened the doctor. But when pressed, Clarke’s office never released such tapes.

According to other inmates, Thomas had been denied water for six days. He was heard pleading for water for days before his death.

Last year, three state lawmakers called for Clarke to resign over the deaths. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) asked the Justice Department to look into the allegations of abuse and neglect at Clarke’s jail. The Justice Department responded in December that it would consider opening an investigation. To that, Clarke responded in a series of tweets:

“Oh stop it with the fake news. There will be no federal investigation of the jail. The only pattern is that I continue to support Pres-elect Donald Trump. After Jan 20, 2017, Jeff Sessions will head the US DOJ. Then the politics will stop. Moore should work on bringing jobs to black people in Milwaukee and stop embracing criminals. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain”

Last month, prosecutors opened a criminal inquest into Thomas’s death. This month, the grand jury recommended criminal charges against seven of Clarke’s deputies.

Clarke on Islam, terrorism and homeland security

In both his book and in radio interviews, Clarke has called for the suspension of habeas corpus for people accused of terrorism, including American citizens. On Twitter, he asked, “When will we realize that Islam viewed as a political ideology by terror groups is not a hijacked view of the religion?”

In 2015, Clarke suggested rounding up American citizens who “sympathize” with terrorists and sending them to the prison at Guantanamo Bay without a trial or hearing. He defined “sympathize” as posting “pro-terrorist sentiment” on social media and estimated that up to 1 million Americans could be imprisoned under his proposal.

Clarke on policing

  • Clarke was among many law enforcement officials who cited the death of Illinois police Lt. Joe Gliniewicz as evidence that cops are increasingly under attack. It was later revealed that Gliniewicz had been stealing public funds, had shot himself and had staged his suicide to look like an ambush. He has also claimed that “war [has] been declared on the American police officer,” despite the fact that policing deaths have dropped dramatically since the 1990s.
  • He has repeatedly referred to Black Lives Matter as a “terrorist” and ”hate” group. In a column for the Hill newspaper, he grouped Black Lives Matter with the Islamic State and declared them an enemy of America that wants to “take down the West.” In a 2015 interview with Fox News, he said the group needed to be “eradicated from American society” and suggested vigilantism might be the way to do it. He also compared Beyonce’s 2016 Super Bowl performance to the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Clarke accused Barack Obama of implicitly encouraging violence in Ferguson, Mo., telling Neil Cavuto in 2014, “I think when he called for calm after the rioting started, I believe it was done with a wink and a nod.”
  • Clarke has advocated tough sentencing against people caught with even a small amount of drugs and has denigrated efforts at criminal justice and sentencing reform. When conservative reformer Pat Nolan countered Clarke’s demagoguery with data at a conference last year, Clarke replied, “Figures lie, and liars figure.”
  • After the election, Clarke tweeted that the anti-Trump protests “must be quelled,” adding, “There is no legitimate reason to protest the will of the people.”
  • In 2015, Clarke said on Fox News that Sandra Bland was responsible for her own death, adding that he’d have been embarrassed to have Bland for a daughter.
  • Despite his high profile, as of January, voters in Milwaukee disapproved of Clarke’s job performance by nearly a 2-1 margin.
  • In 2008, Clarke was sued in federal court by a police union for inviting Christian ministers to proselytize at mandatory meetings of deputy sheriffs. Clarke lost the lawsuit.

Clarke’s record

  • Clarke has been roundly criticized by local officials as an absentee sheriff, due to his frequent media appearances, speeches to tea party gatherings and groups like the NRA, and more recently, his open lobbying for a job in the Trump administration. During one six-day stretch in 2015, he made 14 media appearances. Both the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board and a county supervisor have called on him to resign, either because of his absence, the jail deaths or both.
  • After the nationally covered mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee County in 2012, Clarke was nowhere to be found. When asked for a copy of his calendar by a watchdog group, Clarke turned over a document in which 18 of the 22 entries about his whereabouts had been redacted.
  • A 2013 study found that Wisconsin led the country in proportional incarceration of black men. That position was driven largely by the city of Milwaukee, where more than half of black men in their 30s and 40s had been incarcerated. A third of the black men in Milwaukee incarcerated since 1990 were jailed for nonviolent offenses. Not all of that is Clarke’s doing, of course — he took office in 2002. But over the course of his tenure, arrests for marijuana possession have soared in Milwaukee, as has the disparity between possession arrests for black people vs. white people.
  • In January, an airline passenger claimed that Clarke had several sheriffs’ deputies meet him as he got off an airplane in Milwaukee, where they detained and questioned the man for 15 minutes. The man said the action came after he shook his head at the sheriff for wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey on the same day the Packers were playing the Cowboys in the playoffs. On his Facebook page, Clarke responded, “Next time he or anyone else pulls this stunt on a plane they may get knocked out” and that he does not “have to wait for some goof to assault him.” (In fact, he does. Unless the man specifically threatened him in some way, you can’t punch someone in anticipation of an assault — even if you’re wearing a sheriff’s badge.) Clarke added a meme, addressing the man, “Cheer up, Snowflake. If Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn’t be around to whine about it.”
  • In February 2013, one of Clarke’s deputies T-boned a woman, breaking her neck. The deputy and some of his colleagues then claimed that the woman appeared to be intoxicated and was driving with her lights off. Neither was true. Her blood tests came back with no sign of alcohol, and she was driving a car with automatic headlights. Unfortunately for the deputy, there was surveillance video of the crash. Clarke’s office knew of the video three days after the incident, yet nearly a year passed before the woman was made aware of it. Instead, the county continued to threaten her with charges and insisted that she pay for the damage to the police car. When a county prosecutor finally viewed the video, he dropped the charges. The deputy, who had a history of filing false reports yet was still on the force, was charged with running a stop sign, but not for lying about the crash. None of the deputies who claimed to have smelled alcohol on the woman were disciplined, either. Despite suffering only minor injuries, the deputy was put on medical leave for months, which he used to get out of making child support payments. He then applied for disability. When a reporter from Fox 6 in Milwaukee asked Clarke’s office for an interview about the case, he was repeatedly denied. When he confronted Clarke at a public event about the case, Clarke responded, “Look, there’s a courtesy that goes along with being a reporter. There is a professionalism. Apparently you don’t get it — okay?”
  • When asked about bipartisanship last January, Clarke replied, “When I hear people say we need to reach across the aisle and work with the Democrats, you know what I say? The only reason I’ll be reaching across the aisle is to grab one of them by the throat.”

Clarke and the truth

  • Politifact has fact-checked Clarke 12 times. His record: one “mostly true,” two “half-trues,” and nine “false” or “mostly falses.”
  • In October 2015, Clarke declared on “Fox & Friends” that “there is no police brutality in America. We ended that back in the ’60s.” He then declared racism in law enforcement to be over, too. “There’s a new Harvard study out that shows that there is no racism in the hearts of police officers,” he said. It isn’t clear to what study Clarke was referring.
  • Clarke is somewhat prone to conspiracy theories. In March, he tweeted a story about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and asked, “was he killed because he knew too much?” Last November he referred to “Soros funded riots,” apparently buying into the rumor that George Soros was paying the anti-Trump protesters.
  • Clarke has appeared on the radio show of the conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, where he predicted another American revolution.

Clarke’s tweets

Finally, Clarke is an active presence on Twitter. Here are some of his greatest hits:

And last, but by no means least . . .