What We Need in a New Sheriff
If Clarke leaves, what kind of sheriff should replace him?
Clarke recently announced he would be leaving his post as sheriff to accept a federal job with the Trump administration, as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. However, Clarke indicated the federal job is now less certain in light of the recent plagiarism allegations against him.
If Clarke leaves Milwaukee County, his absence will understandably be celebrated by many Wisconsinites who, for numerous good reasons, want him out of Milwaukee County.
However, to be fair, Clarke already spends a significant amount of time either out-of-state attempting to build a national profile or on radio and television stations, where he pushes a brash political agenda with a heavy dose of self-aggrandizement.
While Governor Walker should not have any difficulty finding someone to appoint as Milwaukee County Sheriff who is better than Clarke, Walker should strive for much more than a person simply “better” than Clarke. After all, that bar is extremely low.
First, respect and defend the Constitution in all cases, including but not limited to the First and Fourth Amendments. In his book, Clarke proposes a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus so that our government can arrest and indefinitely detain Americans in jails who are saying things on the Internet that Clarke deems “jihadist rhetoric.”
What Clarke calls “jihadist rhetoric” would be likely be quite expansive, given that Clarke has lumped groups such as Black Lives Matter in with ISIS, saying the Black Lives Matter movement will “join forces with ISIS.” While I have written about my disagreement with some of the rhetoric used by the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly violent rhetoric against police, it is absurd to lump BLM in with ISIS. Under Clarke’s suspension of habeas corpus plan, he estimates detaining “maybe a million” people, indefinitely, without a trial.
Second, do not physically threaten Americans with whom you disagree politically. During the Presidential campaign, Clarke advocated and condoned violence against people protesting his preferred candidate. “They only understand one thing…And that is force,” Clarke said on Fox News.
On Twitter, Clarke has called for “Pitchforks and torches time” in America when it looked like Trump may lose the election. At a Trump rally, Clarke boasted to the crowd, “I’m a brass knuckles, bloody knuckle type of fighter.”
Third, treat citizens in your jail with at least enough dignity to prevent them from dying of easily fixable conditions, such as dehydration. A mentally ill inmate in Clarke’s jail died of dehydration after his water was shut off for seven days. Instead of taking an ounce of responsibility or accountability for the situation or even showing an iota of sympathy for the deceased citizen, Clarke referenced the criminal accusation against the deceased inmate, apparently implying that somehow his death was more excusable.
An inquest jury in Milwaukee County has since recommended that prosecutors file criminal charges against seven Milwaukee County jail staffers in connection with the dehydration death. Prosecutors presented evidence that two additional inmates were deprived of water within one month of the deceased inmate’s death. A female inmate says she was shackled during her childbirth. Milwaukee County Chief Medical Examiner Brian Peterson says Clarke “verbally pummeled” and “threatened” him in an attempt to get Peterson to remain silent about recent multiple deaths that have occurred at Clarke’s jail.
If I had a Christmas wish-list, I’d add one more requirement as an added bonus – because the taxpayers of Milwaukee County pay your salary, do your job as sheriff and limit incessant, self-aggrandizing and self-promoting television, radio and speaking appearances. In 2016, for example, Clarke reportedly brought in $220,000 in speaking fees, gifts, travel reimbursements and other items. That amount could buy a lot of cowboy hats, and it far exceeds Clarke’s salary as sheriff, at $132,000 per year.
If Clarke leaves Milwaukee County, Governor Walker should go far beyond the basics and pick a new Sheriff who respects the Constitution, honors civil liberties and upholds the rule of law.
Casey Hoff is a criminal defense attorney based in Sheboygan.
This column originally ran in the Sheboygan Press.