America's Angriest Right-Wing Sheriff May Wind Up in the White House

After a tenure marked by lawsuits, brutality, and controversy, David Clarke could fall upward into a Trump administration gig.

by Harry Cheadle
Sep 1 2017, 5:40pm

Left: David Clarke, photo by Spencer Platt/Getty; Right: Donald Trump, photo by Ethan Miller/Getty

Tune into Fox News for any amount of time and chances are David Clarke will pop up. You'll know it's him. If the former sheriff of Milwaukee County knows anything, it's visual branding: He's got his goatee, his cowboy hat, his purely decorative medals pinned all over his jacket. Then he'll open his mouth and say something controversial, probably an attack on Muslims or liberals or people who think that the cops sometimes go too far. In 2015, he said that "there is no police brutality in America," which is striking both because it's demonstrably wrong and because if there's anyone who knows about police brutality, it's Clarke.

The sheriff has been promoting himself as a cartoonish law-and-order right-wing pundit for years—though he's nominally a Democrat in an area dominated by the Democratic Party, he's rarely met a conservative cause he didn't grip with both hands. He's called Planned Parenthood "Planned Genocide," referred to mass incarceration as a "myth," told Milwaukee residents to buy guns for their own protection, advocated sending the "maybe a million" people who are "supporting ISIS" to Guantanamo Bay, thinks Black Lives Matter will "join forces with ISIS," and repeatedly denounced the Obama administration for being soft on crime. He loves Donald Trump, naturally, and Trump reciprocated this week by recommending Clarke's largely incoherent book on "Black LIES Matter."

As Clarke's star rose in the ranks of conservative media, the lawman faced scandal after scandal connected in his day job. In 2010, a jail inmate sued the county alleging he was fed rancid "Nutraloaf"—a gruel-like concoction—that made him so sick he lost 14 pounds in 19 days (the insurance company representing Nutraloaf settled, over the objections of Clarke's department). In 2013, one of his deputies caused a car accident that badly injured a woman, then another deputy arrested the woman and charged her with drunk driving even though she was sober (she later won $250,000, the maximum allowed by law).

Four people have died in county jail during Clarke's tenure. One was a newborn baby who a schizophrenic inmate gave birth to without the knowledge of jail staff. Another was a mentally ill man who died of dehydration after being allegedly deprived of water (in May, a grand jury recommended charges be brought against jail employees for that one). In another case, a woman alleged she had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by a guard and forced to give birth in shackles—though the guard plea bargained to a single felony count, a jury awarded the woman $6.7 million. (As a result of the lawsuit, women will no longer be chained while giving birth at the jail.)

Then there's the matter of Clarke's combativeness, which is extreme. He's sued Milwaukee County multiple times (he had a long-running feud with the county executive), ultimately costing taxpayers $400,000. Earlier this year, he had a man detained for shaking his head disapprovingly at Clarke's Dallas Cowboy fan getup.

With a resume like that, Clarke was reportedly under consideration for a job in Trump's Department of Homeland Security earlier this summer (he said he was accepting a job, but DHS never publicly confirmed he had it). Then, after allegations surfaced that he had plagiarized parts of his master's thesis—or, at best, failed to properly attribute quotes—he said he wasn't going to take the job.

On Thursday, Clarke resigned from his post as sheriff with a terse letter that gave no explanation for his decision. Politico has reported that he may be bound for the Trump Administration after all, though it's not clear what his job would be. Someone with his track record probably wouldn't be allowed within 100 yards of any other White House. But this is Trump's White House, where being loud and pro-Trump on television is a credential in and of itself. Whether he winds up getting a government paycheck or not, Clarke is going to be a fixture on conservative media for years to come. He's not going anywhere.

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