“MILWAUKEE — When David A. Clarke Jr., the sheriff of Milwaukee County, announced last week that he’d been appointed to a senior position at the Homeland Security Department, Milwaukee residents like me felt two things: relief that we might finally rid ourselves of his disastrous leadership, and deep concern about what his reported new role will mean for the rest of the country.
Sheriff Clarke (whose appointment the Trump administration has not confirmed) has attracted national attention on several occasions over the past year. In July, he drew scrutiny when, writing for The Hill, he suggested there was a “civil war” between law enforcement officers and members of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last week, CNN reported that he had plagiarized portions of his 2013 master’s thesis from several sources, including the American Civil Liberties Union and President George W. Bush’s book, “Decision Points.” (Sheriff Clarke has denied this accusation, and called the CNN journalist who wrote the report a “sleaze bag.”) And with his image accompanying articles that have circulated online, Sheriff Clarke’s penchant for festooning his uniform with an abundance of pins and ribbons has drawn the ire of veterans and inspired comparisons to the over-adorned uniforms beloved by military dictators.
Locals have been aghast at his conduct for years, and our criticism goes far deeper than his outrageous statements, his bizarre fashion choices and even his academic dishonesty. Residents of this county have witnessed a series of embarrassing incidents and, much worse, human tragedy on Sheriff Clarke’s watch.
Many have seen the 2015 tweet in which he went as far as to say that the Black Lives Matter movement would “join forces with ISIS.” Less well known is the fact that a police union, on behalf of two deputies, successfully sued him in 2007 for religious proselytizing. A district court in Milwaukee found his actions unconstitutional, which a federal appeals panel upheld in 2009. Apparently, Sheriff Clarke thought it was appropriate to force his deputy sheriffs to listen to a Christian-themed presentation, without regard for the separation of church and state.
There’s more. Sheriff Clarke has exhibited petty vindictiveness in response to those who give him even the mildest rebuke. He’s been accused of harassment by Dan Black, a Riverwest resident who said he was detained and questioned by deputies after an interaction with the sheriff on an airplane in January. Mr. Black’s offense? Shaking his head as he walked by Sheriff Clarke, in his first-class seat, wearing Dallas Cowboys gear on the day the team faced Wisconsin’s Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
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More familiar to the national audience and more disturbing, especially to residents of Milwaukee, one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, is the story of Terrill Thomas, a 38-year-old inmate with bipolar disorder who died in 2016 while awaiting trial in solitary confinement in a jail Sheriff Clarke oversees. Mr. Thomas had gone seven days without water.
But what most Americans outside the Milwaukee metro area may not know is that Mr. Thomas’s death hasn’t been the only suspicious death during Sheriff Clarke’s tenure. Several people have died at a county jail since Sheriff Clarke took office in 2002, including a newborn baby who perished after her mother, Melissa Hall, gave birth on her cell floor. According to a federal lawsuit, Ms. Hall was shackled as she gave birth.
Perhaps the most bizarrely unhinged moment in Sheriff Clarke’s sordid career in Milwaukee came in March when he used a Facebook post to personally attack the city’s mayor, Tom Barrett. After Mr. Barrett criticized Sheriff Clarke for neglecting his duties in favor of Fox News appearances and book promotions, Sheriff Clarke became unhinged. Using the official page of the sheriff’s office, he mocked Mr. Barrett, saying, “The last time Tom Barrett showed up at a crime scene he got his ass kicked by a drunk, tire-iron-wielding man who beat him within inches of his life.” He was referring to a 2009 incident during which Mr. Barrett stepped between a deranged, tire-iron-wielding man threatening a grandmother and a 1-year-old child. Barrett was beaten and hospitalized after the assault, but the woman and child were saved from harm and the man taken into custody.
The timing couldn’t be better for him to step down from his post here. Milwaukee residents are fed up with our homegrown sideshow act. His job approval ratings have tanked in recent months. Were he to run in next year’s sheriff election, he would face an almost insurmountable primary fight for the Democratic spot.
The day we can finally rid ourselves of his malignant, sociopathic leadership can’t come soon enough. “Yippee, giddy up, and leave was my response,” said State Senator Lena Taylor of Sheriff Clarke’s possible appointment. But it’s little comfort because Sheriff Clarke’s power will only expand with his new role, which he has said will begin next month. As Representative Gwen Moore said of the sheriff in Mic, “I can think of few men more uniquely unqualified to liaise with local law enforcement at this juncture.”
The rest of the country should not have to suffer what Milwaukee residents have. David Clarke is not fit for public office. He is incompetent, dishonest, petty, vindictive and cruel. Take it from someone who has had a front-row seat to his antics: Do whatever you can to keep him out of public service, and public life, permanently.
Patrick S. Tomlinson (@stealthygeek) is a novelist, stand-up comic, and political commentator living in Milwaukee, Wis.”
“Incompetent, dishonest, petty, vindictive, and cruel.” Hmmm, sounds like a perfect fit for the Trump Administration! On the other hand, he was elected to the position three times by the voters of Milwaukee County. So, someone out there must like his style.