David Clarke

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Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke

David Alexander Clarke Jr. is the 64th Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Although elected as a Democrat in heavily Democratic Milwaukee County, he is considered a far-right Republican, who is a frequent guest on Fox News and a speaker at the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC). A Trump supporter, his name was being floated for Director of Homeland Security in a Trump administration.[1]

Clarke has gained notoriety for his harsh attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement. He has criticized the group in speeches, op-eds and interviews--even issuing slanderous tweets about Black Lives Matter's supposed willingness to join forces with ISIS.[2]

Four Deaths Occurred in County Jail Overseen by Sheriff Clark in 2016

The Milwaukee County Jail, run by Sheriff Clarke, reported four deaths between April and November 2016. Terrill Thomas, an inmate at the Milwaukee County Jail died of dehydration on April 24, six days after county sheriffs cut off the water supply to his cell.[3] At his initial trial Thomas' lawyer "told the judge there was reason to believe he wasn't mentally competent. The judge ordered a psychiatric examination be completed by May 11," According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Thomas' family believes that his water supply was cut off in response to erratic behavior caused by his mental illness. Marcus Berry who occupied a cell across from Thomas pled with guards to get him water according to an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.[4] His death has been ruled a homicide by the medical examiner's office.[3]

In November the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the death of a newborn in the Milwaukee County Jail in July, "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." Inmate Shade Swayzer was ignored when she told a corrections officer that her water broke, she told an officer she was going into labor at midnight, gave birth at 4 A.M. and finally received medical attention at 6 A.M. according to a complaint filed by Swayzer's lawyer. The child was pronounced dead that same day.[5]

The sheriff's office has not released information regarding the deaths of Kristina Fiebrink and Michael Madden in the Milwaukee County Jail. Family members of both Fiebrink and Madden have called for an outside investigation into their deaths.[6]

Clarke "Threatened" the Milwaukee County Chief Medical Examiner

On October 28, 2016 Sheriff Clarke "verbally pummeled" Milwaukee County's chief medical examiner Brian Peterson for releasing information regarding the deaths in Milwaukee County Jail. Peterson said Clarke threatened to contact the state Medical Examining Board to have his license revoked and insisted that his office followed proper protocol in notifying the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) which oversaw the probe. He noted that it is standard practice for MPD to contact the Sheriff's office, "For us to do (so) would have been inappropriate and would surely have produced an appearance of impropriety, if not impropriety itself," Peterson said. "We were absolutely not trying to keep Sheriff Clarke or his department ignorant, we were simply following appropriate investigative protocol."[7]

Clarke also "excoriated" Peterson "for failing to give the Sheriff's Office a heads up" before releasing the autopsy results for Terrill Thomas according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Additionally, Clarke blasted Peterson over how the office handled the death of an 89 year old man in General Mitchell International Airport earlier that month, "The sheriff was upset that the funeral home was allowed to transport the body to the medical examiner's office, which conducted an external examination and toxicology study. Peterson said the man had extensive medical issues and was under a 'do not resuscitate' order," Writes Dan Bice.[7]

Following the call Peterson wrote in an email, "Sheriff Clarke’s attitude was hostile, his mood was angry, and my attempts to mollify him were rudely rebuffed... After explaining (loudly) that he did not want to tell me how to do my job, Sheriff Clarke told me how to do my job," Peterson wrote. "He expressed his extreme dissatisfaction that my staff did not respond to the crime scene (an airport restroom) to rule out issues (that he listed) including decapitation and incineration, and poisoning." Investigators ruled that the he died of natural causes.[7]

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Calls for Outside Investigation into Deaths

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel joined the call for an outside investigation into inmates' deaths at the Milwaukee County Jail in a scathing editorial on November 24, 2016. Reminding Clarke that "he's the sheriff of Milwaukee County, not the king," the Journal Sentinel editorial board outlined how families of inmates have been left in the dark while Clarke and the sheriff's office have been "shamefully silent."[8]

The Sheriff’s Office has not responded to requests for an interview nor has it provided written answers to a series of questions about its handling of the death investigations, the Journal Sentinel reported. The office also hasn’t responded to a request to provide its policy on requesting outside investigations, which is a document that the office is required by law to have. Nor has the office provided any records in response to an open records request the Journal Sentinel filed in early October.This isn’t just stonewalling; this is building a castle and surrounding it with an alligator-filled moat. Maybe Clarke thinks the peasants of Milwaukee County don’t need to know what’s happening at the jail. Maybe he’s hoping for a call from President-elect Donald Trump (for whom he campaigned so eagerly while people were dying in his jail) so that he can walk away from doing his job. Whatever his faulty reasoning, he’s wrong. Clarke owes the public answers about the deaths and about the state of inmate care at the jail. And the public deserves a sheriff who will do his job.

Representative Gwen Moore Asks Justice Department to Investigate Milwaukee County Jail

Congresswoman Gwen Moore, representing Wisconsin's 4th Congressional district covering most of Milwaukee County, sent a letter to the Justice Department on November 21, 2016, asking the federal agency for an independent investigation of the Milwaukee County Jail.

Representative Moore later tweeted she was informed that the Justice Department is considering a patterns and practice investigation on December 23, 2016.

Clarke Shifts Blame for Inmates Deaths

In an interview with right-wing Wisconsin Watchdog, Clarke attempted to deflect blame for the deaths that occurred at a jail that he oversees all operations of. According to Watchdog, "Clarke said what the Journal Sentinel’s 'hit job' missed is the fact that jail populations are filled with sick people who have made a lot of bad decisions that have compromised their health... 'Two inmates suffered from severed(sic) cardiac disease, which became critical when coupled with the effects of hardcore drug usage prior to their incarceration, with their extensive drug histories independently noted in their death investigations,' (Clarke) said.".[9]

Clarke continued to pin the blame on the jail's private health care provider, and claimed there was nothing he could have done. Erik Heipt, an attorney representing Terrill Thomas's family called Clarke's effort to absolve himself of any blame “preposterous and maddening.”[10]

Milwaukee County Launched Investigation of Clarke Over Harassment Complaint

On January 25, 2017, Milwaukee County auditors launched an investigation into a complaint filed by a man who claimed he was a victim of the "sheriff's abuse of power."

According to the complaint, a Milwaukee resident boarded a plane on January 15, 2017 headed to Milwaukee from Dallas. "As I was boarding, I saw an older man in first class who looked like Sheriff Clarke, but I could not be sure as he was dressed in Dallas Cowboys gear and wasn't wearing his signature cowboy hat. As I passed him, I asked if he was Sheriff Clarke, and he responded in the affirmative. I shook my head as I was moving on to my seat near the back of the plane. From behind, he asked if I had a problem. I shook my head 'no' again and continued to my seat." The complaint details that when the flight landed the man was greeted by six uniformed deputies. The deputies then publicly escorted him through the airport to a waiting area where two questioned him for 15 minutes, "the deputies... agreed, the stop was 'stupid' and 'ridiculous.'"[11]

Following the incident, on January 19 David Clarke took to the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office official Facebook page to issue a response to the complaint. "Sheriff Clarke commented on complaint sent to the media: Next time he or anyone else pulls this stunt on a plane they may get knocked out. The Sheriff said he does not have to wait for some goof to assault him. He reserves the reasonable right to pre-empt a possible assault." The following day the Sheriff's Office posted a meme, featuring a photo of the man that said "Cheer up snowflake...If Sheriff Clarke were to really mess with you, you wouldn't be around to whine about it."

Following the news that an investigation was launched Clarke said "this is fake news." Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele responded to Clarke, "The sheriff calling people names on the internet isn't news. The four deaths in the sheriff's jail and his refusal to answer questions about them aren't fake news. The sheriff taking accountability for any of this and treating his office with the respect the people deserve — that would be news."[12]

See the complaint filed against Sheriff Clarke here.

The National Rifle Association Paid Clarke's Travel Fees to Israel and Russia

David Clarke received more than $150,000 in gifts, speaking fees and travel reimbursements in 2015, including a $40,000 trip to Israel and Russia funded primarily by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Clarke's outside income was more than the annual salary he made as Milwaukee County Sheriff reports Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.[13]

According to a Milwaukee County ethics disclose form that Clarke filed, the sheriff received airfare to Israel valued at $10,149 and over $10,000 in meals and ground transportation from the NRA Ring of Freedom, as well as airfare to Russia valued at $12,302 and $1,500 for Visas from NRA's 1st vice president Pete Brownell. Also disclosed is $6,000 in meals, transportation, lodging and "excursions" from "The Right to Bear Arms", a Russian organization. The form notes that Clarke was in Israel from November 28 to December 8 and Russia between December 8 and 13. "Clarke's office declined a records request for details on the trip, saying it was personal — not official — travel, even though personal trips (a.k.a. vacations) are not supposed to be listed on the ethics form," According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.[13]

2016 Speech at the RNC

FULL SPEECH: Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. Republican National Convention

On the heels of tragic police killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Clark took the stage at the Republican National Convention to attack the Black Lives Matter movement.[14]

The Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of SourceWatch, was at the convention: “Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, an African American and right-wing commentator for Fox News, who has blamed several of the victims of police killings, took to the floor in full dress uniform: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to make something very clear: Blue Lives Matter!... What we witnessed in Ferguson, in Baltimore, and in Baton Rouge was a collapse of social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest, and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.'”[15][16]

The message was echoed by Donald Trump days later. Trump declared himself the nation's "law and order candidate" and stated: "I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: when I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country!" The victims of police violence were not mentioned on the RNC stage. Later, mothers of the Black Lives Matter movement were featured at the Democratic National Convention.[17]

Clarke Blames Black Lives Matter for Police Killings in 2016

In an op-ed for The Hill in July 2016, Clarke blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge. “The targeting of police for hate and for murder is by Black Lives Matter and their accomplices are, in actuality, the targeting is our rule of law. Groups like Black Lives Matter, blessed by the progressive left and most recently our own President Obama, need to be exposed and condemned for their true aims: revolution.”[2] His claims about Black Lives Matter are unfounded.

Clarke's stance on the movement has been criticized by the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP and other activists.[18]

Clark Attacks Black Lives Matter and Don Lemon on CNN after Police Killings in Dallas

Sheriff David Clarke attacks Black Lives Matter on CNN

Black Lives Matter protestors are “purveyors of hate,” says Clarke in this strange interview with CNN's Don Lemon.

Fox Interview with Clark After Dallas Police Killings

Sheriff Clarke: Black Lives Matter needs to be marginalized

“Time to condemn and shun Black Lives Matter. I want to see Southern Poverty Law Center put them on the list of hate groups.” This group wasn’t part of Black Lives Matter says Megyn Kelly.[19]

Black Lives Matter and ISIS

On October 27, 2015 Sheriff Clarke Tweeted:[20]

Before long, Black Lies Matter will join forces with ISIS to being(sic) down our legal constituted republic. You heard it first here.

In response to Clarke's tweet, as well as other recent statements, the Milwaukee NAACP issued the following press release on November 12, 2015:[18]

Statements recently made by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke are inaccurate, divisive and disparaging of African Americans.
Sheriff Clarke has stated, among other things, that:
  • There is no police brutality in America, as it ended back in the ‘60s
  • The Black Lives Matter movement will join forces with ISIS, and the demonstrators are sub-human creeps
  • Blacks sell drugs because they are lazy, uneducated and morally bankrupt
These and similar remarks made by Sheriff Clarke are inaccurate, irresponsible and racist. These comments are counter-productive and are not representative of the interests of those he is elected to serve. Moreover, these types of remarks render Sheriff Clarke or anyone making such remarks unfit to serve as an elected public official.
The NAACP Milwaukee Branch finds Sheriff Clarke’s comments deplorable. We urge all citizens of good will to reject such vile invective and we encourage the voters of Milwaukee County to hold him accountable at the ballot box.

Clarke: Blacks Sell Drugs "Because They're Uneducated, They're Lazy and They're Morally Bankrupt"

Speaking on his podcast hosted on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze Radio Network October 24, 2015, Clarke responded to an article by Harvard professor Sendhil Mullainathan in the New York Times arguing that police killings are a result of institutional racism, not strictly racial bias on the part of individual officers.[21][22]

Now this is what I mean when I say this dysfunctional black subculture. 'I can't find a job so I'll go out and commit crime'... Let me tell you why blacks sell drugs and involve themselves in criminal behavior instead of a more socially acceptable lifestyle. Because they're uneducated, they're lazy and they're morally bankrupt. That's why.

Listen to the podcast here at the 32:30 mark.

Clarke vs. Marriage Equality "Next Is Rage then Revolt"

Following the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges affirming marriage equality on June 26, 2015, Clarke tweeted:

Encouraged to see that the sense of resignation over SCOTUS and modern lib cultural rot is turning to anger today. Next is rage, then revolt

According to One Wisconsin Now, "Not content to stop there, Clarke in a media interview pondered, '... who would have thought that in the 21st century homosexuality would come out of the closet and churches would be forced to go into the closet?' and opined, 'If we don’t resist, we can see what is happening before our eyes...' It was also reported that on his radio show he advocated for, 'pitchforks and torches' and that, 'If you call yourself an American, then you have to start a revolution in this country after what happened last week at the United States Supreme Court.'"[23]

Clarke is a Member of Extremist "Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association"

"Clarke calls himself a 'constitutional sheriff' – which is not the benign label it appears, but rather signifies his membership in former sheriff Richard Mack’s Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the antigovernment organization that promotes the Posse Comitatus-derived belief, among others, that the county sheriff is the supreme law enforcement entity in the United States," According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) a non-profit that tracks hate groups. SPLC monitors the organization, which it has criticized for espousing "radical right" views.[24]

David Clarke was named the group's “Sheriff of the Year” in 2013, and addressed its annual convention. His speech emphasized his view that “our common enemy” is “the government.”[24] Others who spoke at the convention include a representative from the John Birch Society and former Maripoca County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.[25]

Ties to Gun Owners of America

In 2013, Milwaukee County Sheriff, David A. Clarke, Jr. came under fire for airing a public service announcement "telling residents that because of budget cuts, calling 911 for help is no longer their best option."

With officers laid off and furloughed, Clarke says, calling 911 and waiting for police is no longer your best bet. "You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you could fight back. But are you prepared?" he asks. "Consider taking a certified safety course in handling a firearm so you can defend yourself until we get there. You have a duty to protect yourself and your family."[26]

Clark went on to spend at least $6,175 in tax dollars on gun-themed radio ads, which he called personal safety messages, urging citizens to arm themselves for self-protection. When Milwaukee County Supervisor Patricia Jursik proposed a ban on taxpayer-funded radio and TV ads starring elected officials, Clarke took out another $10,000 to make new ads. Under Jursik's plan such ads would be violations of the county ethics code and subject to fines.[27]

As a result, Gun Owners of America (GOA) members flooded Milwaukee County Board members' email accounts with notes backing Sheriff Clarke and the radio ads. "I am very disappointed that a committee made up of seven supervisors voted to restrict Sheriff David Clarke from appearing in any future public service announcements," stated the first line of dozens of the emails, which came from as far as Oregon and Maryland. "Are you people Nuts, abusing your authority like this?" wrote another Clarke supporter to all the Milwaukee supervisors. "Take Note: Any vote against Sheriff Clarke will be a vote against your re-election."[28]


  1. Nancy Cook and Andrew Restuccia, Meet Trump's Cabinet-in-waiting, Politico, November 9, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 David Clarke, This is a war, and Black Lives Matter is the enemy, The Hill, July 18, 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cara Lombardo, Death in County Jail ruled homicide; cause of death was dehydration, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 15, 2016.
  4. Cara Lombardo, More than two months later, family of inmate who died in Milwaukee County Jail has no answers, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 4, 2016.
  5. Jacob Carpenter, Baby died after staff ignored labor, inmate says, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 16, 2016.
  6. Jacob Carpenter, Inmate families want outside investigation into deaths, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 22, 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Daniel Bice, Medical examiner 'threatened' by Clarke over jail deaths, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 2, 2016.
  8. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board, Editorial: Conduct outside investigation into jail deaths, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 24, 2016.
  9. M.D. Kittle, What the Journal Sentinel left out of its ‘hit job’ on Sheriff Clarke, Wisconsin Watchdog, December 7, 2016.
  10. Nick Wing, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke Blames Inmates For Dying At His Jail, Huffington Post, December 8, 2016.
  11. Dan Black, Clarke Complaint, document, accessed February 9, 2017.
  12. Daniel Bice, Bice: Sheriff Clarke responds to county investigation into complaint, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 25, 2017.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Daniel Bice, Bice: As Sheriff Clarke's profile soars, gifts roll in, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 29, 2016.
  14. Nick Gass, Milwaukee sheriff at RNC: 'Blue lives matter', Politico, July 18, 2016.
  15. Mary Bottari, Black Lives, Blue Lives, and the Fight Over Criminal Justice in America, PRWatch.org, July 27, 2016.
  16. Kate Sheppard, Black Lives Matter-Bashing Black Sheriff Is Donald Trump’s New Best Friend, Huffington Post, July 18, 2016.
  17. Politico Staff, Full text: Donald Trump 2016 RNC draft speech transcript, Politico, July 21, 2016.
  18. 18.0 18.1 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: Milwaukee branch, STATEMENT OF NAACP MILWAUKEE BRANCH REGARDING MILWAUKEE COUNTY SHERIFF DAVID A. CLARKE, press release, November 12, 2015.
  19. David Clarke, Sheriff David Clarke: It's time to stand up to Black Lives Matter, FoxNews, July 11, 2016.
  20. Ben Mathis-Lilley, Potential Trump Homeland Security Chief Believes Black Lives Matter–ISIS Alliance Is Imminent, Slate, November 10, 2016.
  21. Milwaukee TMJ4, MKE Sheriff: Blacks sell drugs because they're "lazy," "morally bankrupt", TMJ4, November 4, 2015.
  22. Isabel Carter-Kahn, Sheriff David Clarke: ‘Blacks Sell Drugs’ Because They Are ‘Lazy’ And ‘Morally Bankrupt’, RightWingWatch, November 3, 2015.
  23. One Wisconsin Now, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Reported to be Auditioning for National Security Job With Donald Trump, press release, November 28, 2016.
  24. 24.0 24.1 David Neiwert, Sheriff David Clarke Plays a Straight-Talking Cop on Cable TV, But His Agenda Springs From Far-Right Extremism, Southern Poverty Law Center, October 30, 2015.
  25. Daniel Bice, David A. Clarke's sheriff of the year honor isn't your typical award, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 15, 2013.
  26. David Schaper, Milwaukee County Sheriff: 'You Have A Duty To Protect Yourself', NPR, January 31, 2013.
  27. Daniel Bice, David Clarke ad: Be "ruthless" in response to attackers, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 11, 2013.
  28. Daniel Bice, Gun group floods County Board with emails backing David Clarke, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 20, 2013.