Milwaukee County Sheriff and Professional Trump Supporter David Clarke Steps Down

By Sameer Rao Sep 01, 2017

Law enforcement veteran David Clarke, one of President Donald Trump’s highest-profile Black supporters, announced his resignation from his Milwaukee County sheriff post yesterday (August 31): 

Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson told Time Magazine/The Associated Press (The AP) that Clarke submitted a resignation letter to him, but did not explain why he was leaving more than a year before the end of his term. Clarke, who became county sheriff in 2002 after two decades with the Milwaukee Police Department, said in the above tweet that he will announce his next steps after Labor Day weekend.

Clarke’s outspoken support for Trump and heavy-handed policing endeared him to conservatives nationwide. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Clarke earned $220,172 in speaker fees, gifts and travel expenses during 2016, not including travel or speeches he conducted as a Trump campaign surrogate. Clarke spoke on stage at the 2016 Republican National Convention, saying that "Blue lives matter," according to The Washington Post. He also repeatedly professed support for the National Rifle Association, which the Journal Sentinel reports funded his 2014 primary victory, and he appeared in recurring commentator spots on Fox News. 

Clarke’s remarks also frequently drew criticism from anti-racist activists and groups. The 2016 killing of Black Milwaukee resident Sylville Smith by ex-Milwauke Police Department officer Dominque Heaggan-Brown prompted days of unrest that Clarke blamed on "failed liberal urban policies," "father-absent homes" and "questionable lifestyle choices." He incorporated some of these perspectives in his 2017 memoir, "Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime and Politics for a Better America."

The Times notes that the cowboy hat-loving Clarke previously called Ferguson demonstrators "vultures on a roadside carcass” and alleged an alliance between Black Lives Matter activists and the Islamic State. He announced plans in January to register Milwaukee in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s 287(g) program and grant his deputies the authority to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants. 

Criticism against Clarke also cites several accusations of abuse in Milwaukee County jails under his purview. The Journal Sentinel reports that at least five people have died in those jails since 2016. An inquest into the death of Terrill Thomas, a man with bipolar disorder who died from dehydration in a solitary county jail cell, found probable cause for felony abuse and neglect by seven staffers. The investigation happened in May 2017, the same month that The Times says Clarke announced that he would accept a senior position in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Neither the White House nor DHS confirmed the job offer.

In addition, U.S. News and World Report/The Associated Press reported in June that a federal jury granted $6.7 million in damages to a women incarcerated in a Milwaukee County jail in 2013. The anonymous woman accused former corrections officer Xavier Thicklen of repeated rape while she was pregnant and incarcerated. Prosecutors dismissed several sexual assault charges against Thicklen in exchange for his guilty plea of felony misconduct, for which the Journal Sentinel says he served only three days behind bars and paid a $200 fine.