Op Ed

Clarke At Fault On County Jail

Inmate denied water for seven days? Walker should replace the sheriff.

By - Apr 25th, 2017 02:31 pm
Sheriff David Clarke speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Sheriff David Clarke speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Prisoners have rights.

That statement shouldn’t be so profound. But too often, many in our society tend to forget, purposely or not, that prisoners have legal rights that must be adhered to. Even if prisoners have committed a heinous crime, if these rights are violated an injustice has occurred.

The founders of our nation recognized this fact. They enshrined, within the Eighth Amendment, that “cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted” on those serving time behind bars.

So when an injustice is performed upon a member of the prisoner population, who’s to blame? It depends on a variety of factors: who issued the order, and who allowed it to happen; who carried out the action, and who turned a blind eye.

In Milwaukee County’s jail, which is overseen by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s department, which is run by David Clarke, a prisoner died because he was not allowed to drink water while in solitary confinement.

From the Journal Sentinel (emphases in bold added):

When [Terrill] Thomas arrived in solitary confinement on April 17, 2016, a corrections officer went to a utility panel and turned off the water in Thomas’ cell, surveillance video showed.

“This order to shut off Mr. Thomas’ water was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail,” [Assistant District Attorney Kurt] Benkley said. The cutoff of water was never marked in a jail log or written on a whiteboard used to note significant events on the solitary confinement wing, Benkley said. Surveillance video also showed nobody approached the utility panel to turn Thomas’ water back on, Benkley said…

Although it likely doesn’t factor into his death, prosecutors also noted Thomas was never once taken out of his solitary confinement cell during his seven days there. Inmates are typically given one hour of recreation time per day.

I’ve previously written about the dangers of solitary confinement, and how the practice ought to be curtailed. But this goes beyond problematic policies and ventures into prisoner neglect and abuse.

For Thomas to be deprived of water for that long  — even a single day would be outrageous — is demonstrative of a prison system in Milwaukee County jails that is in need of serious attention. Unfortunately, it’s not the only case we have to concern ourselves with.

Three other individuals died under Sheriff Clarke’s watch in 2016. Two died of heart issues while in jail cells. A third hadn’t committed a crime at all — an infant, born while their mother was imprisoned in the jail, died shortly after birth. Prison guards allegedly “laughed off” the concerns of the mother when she tried to explain she was going into labor.

I’ll repeat myself: Prisoners have rights. This includes the right to defend themselves in court, as well as the right to be given proper and safe living conditions in jail or prison until that time comes.

These inmates weren’t granted those rights. It’s disturbing enough that this happened to one inmate. That four have suffered the consequences of gross negligence in Milwaukee County jail demonstrates that the blame goes to more than one individual.

Harry Truman famously said, “the buck stops here.” The responsibility for problems in his administration rested at his feet, and nowhere else.

Sheriff David Clarke offers a different point of view, one that we should reject. He regularly harasses people at airports and on social media. Four individuals have died while under his watch. And he doesn’t seem to see why some might think he has a role to play in that.

A legislator from Milwaukee recently requested that Gov. Scott Walker remove Clarke from his duties, something governors have the power to do. Walker has said he won’t make that move.

But it would be the right one to make. It won’t provide justice for the victims who died on his watch, but it might prevent any future victims of his cruel and unusual style of management.

Chris Walker writes a blog at http://political-heat.blogspot.com

25 thoughts on “Op Ed: Clarke At Fault On County Jail”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    So WCD what’s your defense of Clarke for this? He is in charge right? His employees withheld water from a mentally ill man for seven days, directly causing his death. They are criminals right? And their boss should be held responsible right?

  2. Jason says:

    Vince get your facts straight.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Can you elaborate Jason? I’m all ears. Should have known you’d rush to Clarke’s defense. Conservatives sure are selective when it comes to personal accountability.

  4. Jason says:

    Vince, where’s the beef? There is no evidence that the jail Clarke administers has more accidents or deaths than any other similar institution in America. In science they call it the control case as a comparison.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    Jason you can read right? I never said the jail Clarke is in charge of has more accidents or deaths than other similar institutions in America. What does that have to do with the Thomas homicide that happened under Clarke’s watch?

  6. Jason says:

    This is like blaming Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn for the actions of Police officer Manning in the Dontre Hamilton fiasco.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    Actually it is nothing like that. At all. Not even close. One happened out in public while the other happened in a jail. Totally and completely different environments and circumstances. It’s apples and oranges. They are nothing alike. Try again. That was pathetic, even for you.

  8. Jason says:

    Vince, this would be like blaming District Attorney Chisolm for locking up a third of all African Americans in Milwaukee. What do you guys do in Milwaukee? We distribute African American men through the Criminal Justice System maybe, we should blame DA Chisolm for the handing of his justice tactics and then his nudge of supposed guilty black men onto Clarke’s African American Embassy Suites.

  9. Daddy2Girls says:

    There were consequences for the officer involved in the Dontre Hamilton (he lost his job). Flynn took action. Were there any consequences for the staff involved in this or the other three cases at the County Jail? If Clarke had stated publicly that the actions of his staff were unacceptable and they had been disciplined for their neglect, we’d have nothing to talk about here.

  10. Daddy2Girls says:

    Jason, reason and morality are our friends. Learn about them sometime.

  11. Casey says:

    there are many many conservatives (maybe even a majority) that do not support Clarke and view him as a psycho. They see that he is giving conservatives a worse image. Even Trump supporters (the ones that backed Trump from day 1) want nothing to do with Clarke.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    Again that analogy totally fails Jason. It isn’t remotely like that. You’re not making much sense. Reason and morality are clearly not Jason’s friends. Though he’d probably have a totally different view if someone other than Clarke was in charge of the jail.

  13. David Nelson says:

    Shutting off water to Thomas’ cell for seven days was murderous. Drawing attention to this is not a political statement. It is an honest appraisal of fact.

    Now some apologists might back pedal slightly and claim that Jail staff could not have known what might happen. That too would be a lie.

    The bigger question here is why would anyone support the actions which lead to this murder.

  14. Vincent Hanna says:

    There appears to be an attempted cover up too as four days’ worth of vital surveillance video has disappeared, tape that would have shown who shut off the water. You do have to wonder why some people are more concerned with twisting themselves in knots to defend Clarke as opposed to being outraged by this man’s homicide and the actions that occurred before and after his death.

  15. Daddy2Girls says:

    I have a theory. I’d like to believe that, at some level, Clarke realizes that this very thing could bring him down. Way down. So his recent media and public meltdowns are symptoms of this. He’s lashing out erratically and carelessly because he hears the clock ticking on his celebrity status and will soon be, if not charged criminally, be relegated to obscurity a la Milo Yiannopoulos. He’s done, and I think he knows it.

  16. Jason says:

    Your all wrong here. If Clarke knows who did this he will weed them out. Clarke has a history of firing bad employees.

  17. Daddy2Girls says:

    Jason, this happened a year ago. If he had weeded them out, don’t you think he would have told the public? And if he hasn’t, why not? He seems to be operating under the notion that nothing bad or out of the ordinary happened here – nothing warranting explanation to the public. He owes us all an explanation. We employ him, not the other way around.

    I’m glad to see, at least, you starting to admit that something wrong happened there warranting action.

  18. Jason says:

    Daddy, I personally know a Sheriff Deputy who was in the wrong place at the wrong tome and lied about it. Clarke smelled something fishy and fired him. My point is where is the out rage for all these black men being locked up in Milwaukee. Does Barrett, Chisolm and Flynn share any of the responsibility for locking up young black men or is it all on Clarke?

  19. Daddy2Girls says:

    Jason, that’s just changing the subject. I’m sure Sheriff Clarke has handled many situations that we don’t know of. This is one that raises a number of questions. The public deserves to know what happened. Clarke crying in his beer that he feels persecuted for being a Trump supporter doesn’t help one tiny bit.

    A man died through someone’s negligence. Can’t he step up and give us a direct, reasonable explanation?

  20. Jason says:

    Daddy, He died on the 24th, the article was posted on the 25th. Would it not be reasonable to conduct an investigation before rushing to the press. If the allegations are true that officer will face the criminal justice system for his or her actions.

  21. Daddy2Girls says:

    Jason, what are you even talking about? Terrill Thomas died a year ago! Are you confusing this with some other case?

  22. A Bus Driver says:

    Why is he still in office? He should be one of the inmates with his water cut off for a week & see how it is to die of thirst. What a cruel thing to do to another human being. Shame on ANYONE defending this rat bastard. The “buck” lays at his feet. He is the one in charge.

  23. A Bus Driver says:

    Wonder if the “defenders” would be defending him if the person that died had been a family member or friend.

  24. Vincent Hanna says:

    Thomas died April 24, 2016 Jason. That is more than a year ago. It sure seems like you have no idea what you are talking about. Wouldn’t be the first time.

    Clarke also deserves this scrutiny and criticism Jason because of how he treats others. He acts morally superior to everyone else. He wastes no time criticizing anyone and everyone he finds morally inferior to himself and conservatives. He doesn’t wait to get the whole truth or learn all the facts. He fires away. Yet when people die in his jail, he refuses to answer questions and takes no responsibility and doesn’t apologize to the families of the deceased. He’s repugnant.

  25. MKE Kid says:

    Jason’s constant deflecting to totally irrelevant and unrelated issues sounds like the typical Trump supporter uttering, “But, but, but…EMAILS!!!” Jason sounds as erratic and unhinged as Clarke. The funny thing is his type end up sounding even more ridiculous as they attempt to defend the indefensible.
    As far as Clarke, I’ll never forget those roll call books I read that detailed his screwups and slumming while on duty over the years. I’ve known a lot of MCSO deputies over the past 20+ years. What they’ve told me about Clarke cannot be repeated in this family friendly forum.

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