David Clarke (sheriff)

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David Clarke
David Clarke by Gage Skidmore 2.jpg
64th Sheriff of Milwaukee County
Assumed office
March 19, 2002
Preceded by Lev Baldwin
Personal details
Born David Alexander Clarke Jr.
(1956-08-21) August 21, 1956 (age 60)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Julie Clarke
Alma mater Concordia University,
Website Official website

David Alexander Clarke Jr. (born August 21, 1956) is the 64th Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. In 2002, Clarke was appointed to a vacancy by Governor Scott McCallum, and later elected that same year to his first four-year term. He was re-elected in November 2006, 2010, and 2014, and is currently serving his fourth full term. Although registered and elected as a Democrat in a heavily Democratic county, Clarke's political views align with deeply conservative Republicans.[1][2] Clarke frequently appears as a guest on Fox News and was a speaker at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Early life, education, and early career[edit]

Clarke was born in Milwaukee, one of five children of Jeri and David Clarke Sr.[3] His father was a paratrooper with the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company. Clarke Jr. attended Marquette University High School.[3]

His career in law enforcement began in 1978 at the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). He "rose through the ranks at a slow but steady pace in his 24 years with the department." Clarke was a patrol officer for eleven years and then a homicide detective; he was promoted to lieutenant of detectives in 1993 and captain in 1999.[3]

In 1999, Clarke received a B.A. in Management of Criminal Justice from Concordia University Wisconsin's School of Adult and Continuing Education.[4]

In January 2002, Milwaukee County Sheriff Leverett F. (Lev) Baldwin resigned midway through his term to take a pension payout. Clarke was one of ten applicants for the position, and was appointed sheriff on March 19, 2002, by Governor Scott McCallum.[3] He was elected to a full term later in 2002, and has been reelected every four years since then.

Sheriff of Milwaukee[edit]

Budget and clashes with Milwaukee County government[edit]

Clarke has often clashed with the county government over the sheriff's office budget, engaging "in a long-running, high-profile tiff" over the issue with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, "with Clarke providing the more incendiary rhetoric." Abele's proposed budget for 2014 would cut $12 million from the Sheriff's Office budget, eliminating 69 jobs and "shifting park patrols, emergency management, 911 communications and training divisions" to other entities, such as the Milwaukee Police Department, suburban police departments, and the county Department of Emergency Preparedness. Abele described the budget as a way to refocus the sheriff's office on "core, mandated services." Clarke issued a statement calling Abele a "vindictive little man" and saying that "Abele should be drug-tested. He has to be on heroin or hallucinating with that statement." Abele responded by saying that it was "unfortunate the sheriff, instead of engaging in thoughtful civil discourse, is making personal attacks and making light of a serious problem in our community and state."[5]

On another occasion, Clarke said that Abele had "penis envy."[6]

In 2015, Clarke clashed with Abele again after Clarke filed a lawsuit against the county over the sheriff's budget, seeking $25 million in funds to hire 75 deputies, 43 House of Corrections officers and 17 supervisors. Clarke argued that his office is underfunded by the county, while Abele noted that the sheriff's office had received the largest increase of any county department and criticized Clarke for having what he termed "a very heavy command staff," "a lot of unnecessary overtime," and redundancies in courthouse security.[7] Clarke sued Abele, alleging that he had violated Clarke's right to free speech through the budget process; a federal judge dismissed Clarke's suit in April 2016.[8]

A county audit released in 2012 showed that the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office used asset forfeiture funds to buy exercise equipment for Clarke's command staff, for a Disney training, and for a mounted patrol unit. The audit reported that the spending violated county procurement rules, although not federal rules on the use of seized money. Clarke was criticized for the amount of money spent on the mounted patrol by County Supervisor Patricia Jursik; Clarke defended the office's use of the funds.[9]

According to an Associated Press tally, from 2012 to April 2016, Clarke had incurred more than $310,000 in legal fees for his private attorney, who represented him in litigation against Milwaukee County.[8] Milwaukee County taxpayers paid the legal fees.[8] The county spent an additional $83,000 defending itself against Clarke's lawsuits.[8]

House of Corrections[edit]

In January 2008, a National Institute of Corrections audit of the Milwaukee County House of Correction in Franklin identified 44 areas of concern, calling the House of Correction "dysfunctional" and determining that it suffered from "serious security, staff morale and management flaws." The House of Corrections was at the time a separate Milwaukee County department overseen by a superintendent who reported to then Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Walker and the County Board transferred control over the House to the Sheriff's Department under Clarke on January 1, 2009. The House's former work-release center was transferred to the Milwaukee County Jail. Clarke received praise for rapidly correcting many of the issues identified in the report.[9]

Position on gun issues[edit]

In January 2013, Clarke was featured on a series of public radio ads that said citizens could no longer rely on the police for timely protection and should arm themselves. Later that month, Clarke appeared on the CNN program Piers Morgan Live, with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who "said it was irresponsible of Clarke to 'basically imply' that it won't help citizens to call 911 when they need help."[10]

Approval ratings[edit]

In a January 2017 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, which surveyed Milwaukee County voters, only 31% approved of the job Clarke was doing, compared to 62% who disapproved. In the same poll, 65% said they believed Clarke had a negative impact on the image of Milwaukee County, and among registered Democrats, only 13% said they would vote for Clarke in a hypothetical Democratic primary, compared to 82% who would prefer another candidate.[11]

Political views and associations[edit]

Clarke holding up a copy of the United States Constitution

Clarke is registered as a Democrat,[12] which, according to Journal Sentinel reporter Daniel Bice, is advantageous in heavily Democratic Milwaukee County. However, Clarke is almost universally regarded as a conservative and has been referred to as "right of most righties."[1] Clarke "is frequently critical of Milwaukee Democrats, such as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett; he speaks at many Republican functions, and he has the backing of the National Rifle Association," which has raised funds for his reelection campaigns.[1] Clarke has in turn been criticized by the local Democratic Party.[6] On his website in 2014, Clarke stated that he questioned "why the Office of Sheriff is a partisan election" and wrote: "I have never asked a person to vote for me because I run as a Democrat. I ask them to vote for me based on my 35-year commitment to keeping citizens safe. Most voters get it when it comes to public safety. There is no Democrat or Republican way to be a sheriff. The enemy is not the opposing party; the enemy is the criminal."[12][13]

Maurice Chammah characterized Clarke as an "iconoclastic sheriff," one of "a long line of controversy-courting lawmen" that includes Richard Mack and Joe Arpaio in Arizona.[14] Clarke has been "associated with those on the political extremes" on occasion, and has attracted attention for these "dalliances with the far right".[15] In 2013, Clarke accepted the "Sheriff of the Year Award" by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group of sheriffs founded by Mack.[15] The Southern Poverty Law Center has criticized founder Mack and his organization for espousing "radical-right" views.[15] Earlier the same year, Clarke appeared for an interview on the syndicated show of Alex Jones.[15] Clarke has also appeared on CNN, Fox News, and other major news outlets to discuss ongoing police controversies.[16]

On "Black Lives Matter"[edit]

Clarke is a frequent and vociferous critic of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, referring to it as "Black Lies Matter" and describing the movement as a hate group.[17][18] Clarke denies that police officers are more willing to shoot black suspects than white suspects, has labeled BLM activists "subhuman creeps", and has called for the eradication of the movement "from American society".[18] He also warned in Twitter about Black Lives Matter's supposed willingness to join forces with ISIS.[19] Clarke has blamed "liberal policies" for rioting and other issues in American cities.[16] Clarke's stance on the movement has been criticized by the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP and other activists.[18]

Clarke has harshly criticized various black critics of police abuses.[20] He has called former Attorney General Eric Holder an "a-hole" and accused him in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee of "outright hostility" toward police; referred to Al Sharpton as a "charlatan"; and criticized Beyoncé for her referencing Black Panthers in her halftime-show performance at the 2016 Super Bowl.[20]


In 2015, Clarke traveled privately to Moscow, his expenses covered by the Russian Organization "The Right to Bear Arms”.[21]

Donald Trump[edit]

Clarke is a strong supporter of Republican Donald Trump, saying during Trump's 2016 presidential campaign that he would "do everything I can" to help Trump win the presidency.[22] Clarke spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.[23] In October 2016, Clarke tweeted, "It's incredible that our institutions of gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time." with an attached photo of an angry mob holding pitchforks and torches.[24][25] On November 25, 2016, it was reported that Clarke would be meeting with Donald Trump for a possible role in his administration.[26]

Comments on drugs[edit]

Clarke opposes government-funded drug rehabilitation programs and has criticized efforts to shift drug offenders to drug-treatment programs instead of jail or prison, saying: "Those programs de-motivate people to address their own problems. So don't expect me to pay for your drug rehab. Find your own through the private sector."[27]

At a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in May 2015, Clark was asked by U.S. Representative Steve Cohen: "Would you agree that marijuana possession is not the scourge of the black community and does not lead to violent crime the same way that meth, crack cocaine, and heroin do?" Clarke responded: "No, I wouldn't agree with that at all."[28]

In a podcast on a Glenn Beck's conservative TheBlaze Radio Network in October 2015, Clarke criticized African Americans, stating: "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."[29][30] The remark received substantial attention in the press and on social media.[29][30]

Habeas corpus[edit]

In a December 2015 appearance on his radio program, Clarke asserted that there were "hundreds of thousands" or "maybe a million" people who "have pledged allegiance or are supporting ISIS, giving aid and comfort," and stated that "our commander in chief ought to utilize Article I, Section 9" to imprison them at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp "and hold them indefinitely under a suspension of habeas corpus."[31][32]

Persona and media appearances[edit]

Clarke on horseback at the 2008 Milwaukee St. Patrick's Day parade

Clarke frequently appears at public events on horseback wearing a cowboy hat.[6]

Clarke "has become a fixture of conservative media" and in 2015 began hosting a podcast talk show, "David Clarke: The People's Sheriff," on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze Radio Network,[20][33] where he has expressed support for the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.[34] He received criticism for his statement on his podcast: "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."[35] Clarke also frequently appears as a guest on Fox News, and on one occasion in September 2015 guest-hosted The Sean Hannity Show.[20]

Potential mayoral run[edit]

In January 2014, Clarke announced he was considering a run for mayor of Milwaukee in 2016,[36] but ultimately decided not to run,[37] instead endorsing Republican Alderman Bob Donovan's unsuccessful[38] bid to unseat Mayor Barrett.[39]


In February 2017 a Detroit-area man filed a harassment lawsuit against Clarke after Milwaukee deputies detained the man at the Milwaukee airport in January. The man had asked Clarke about his football team preference and made a gesture Clarke found suspicious. After the man filed a complaint Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office issued a statement saying that Clarke had a "reasonable right to pre-empt a possible assault" and that the next person to attempt the man's "stunt ... may get knocked out."[40]

Proselytism lawsuit[edit]

In 2006, Clarke invited members of an Evangelical Christian organization, the Fellowship of Christian Centurions, to speak at several mandatory employee meetings, at which the group members proselytized. Several deputies complained about the Centurions' proselytizing, but Clarke refused to stop the presentations. The sheriff deputies' union and two individual sheriff's deputies (a Catholic and a Muslim) successfully sued Clarke in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Clarke appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which upheld the lower court's ruling in 2009. The sheriff did not seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court.[41][42]

Death of Terrill Thomas[edit]

The Milwaukee County Jail turned the water off to inmate Terrill Thomas' cell, resulting in his death by profound dehydration on April 24, 2016. According to inmates, the water was turned off for six days and the staff refused to provide water to Thomas. On September 15, 2016, the Milwaukee medical examiner ruled Thomas's death a homicide.[43] Later that day Clarke's office sent out a press release which stated it would not be commenting on the matter until the investigation was complete.[44][45] Asked about the lawsuit in March 2017, Clarke said that he had no comment on the lawsuit but noted Thomas' criminal background.[46]

Personal life[edit]

Clarke and his wife live on the northwest side of Milwaukee.[47]


  1. ^ a b c Daniel Bice, Does anyone still think Sheriff David Clarke is a Democrat? Apparently, one, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (July 27, 2014).
  2. ^ Gun fight? National political donors spend hundreds of thousands on local Milwaukee sheriff's race, Fox News (August 12, 2014).
  3. ^ a b c d Kurt Chandler, The New Black Power, Milwaukee Magazine (July 25, 2003).
  4. ^ Milwaukee Sheriff, CU Alum Receives Award (press release), Concordia University Wisconsin (April 1, 2016).
  5. ^ Steve Schultze. "Abele wants to cut Clarke's budget; sheriff calls exec 'vindictive little man'". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved 4 August 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c Lisa Kaiser (July 23, 2014). "Is It Time For a New Sheriff in Town?". Shepherd Express. 
  7. ^ Clarke, Abele at odds over sheriff's budget lawsuit, WDJT-TV (February 4, 2015).
  8. ^ a b c d Milwaukee County pays high price for sheriff's lawsuits, Associated Press (April 23, 2016).
  9. ^ a b Steve Schultze, Clarke spent asset forfeitures on workout equipment, horse patrol, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (September 28, 2012).
  10. ^ "David Clarke, Tom Barrett square off over guns on CNN". jsonline.com. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  11. ^ Jensen, Tom (January 31, 2017). "Milwaukee County Survey Results" (pdf). Public Policy Polling. Retrieved April 23, 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Clarke, David. "Meet the Milwaukee County Sheriff – David A. Clarke Jr.". Friends of Sheriff Clarke. Archived from the original on July 18, 2016. 
  13. ^ Bice, Daniel (31 May 2014). "Sheriff David Clarke files for re-election amid talk of other offices". Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  14. ^ Maurice Chammah, America's Loudest Sheriffs: A Reading Guide: Milwaukee’s David Clarke is the latest in a long line of controversy-courting lawmen, The Marshall Project (May 6, 2016).
  15. ^ a b c d Daniel Bice, David A. Clarke's sheriff of the year honor isn't your typical award: Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association known for anti-government views, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (May 15, 2013).
  16. ^ a b Sabina, Carmine (28 April 2015). "Sheriff Clarke: Why are we surprised at sub-human behavior in American ghettos? Lib policies created it". Bizpac Review. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  17. ^ David Clarke, It's time to stand up to Black Lives Matter, Fox News (July 11, 2016).
  18. ^ a b c Brendan O'Brien, Black Milwaukee sheriff takes on Black Lives Matter movement, Reuters (February 27, 2016).
  19. ^ David Clarke, Before long, Black Lies Matter will join forces with ISIS to being down our legal constituted republic. You heard it first here., Twitter (October 27, 2015).
  20. ^ a b c d Maurice Chammah, American Sheriff: David Clarke, the Trump-loving, pro-mass-incarceration, Fox News favorite, is challenging criminal-justice reform—and stereotypes, The Atlantic (May 5, 2016).
  21. ^ "Why has the NRA been cozying up to Russia?". 23 November 2016. 
  22. ^ Bice, Daniel (June 16, 2016). "Clarke says he will 'do everything I can' to help Trump win". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  23. ^ Sheriff Clarke, Rep. Duffy added to GOP convention speakers list, WISN-TV (July 14, 2016).
  24. ^ "David A. Clarke, Jr. on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2016-10-15. 
  25. ^ News, A. B. C. (2016-10-15). "Controversial Trump-Supporting Sheriff Calls for 'Pitchforks and Torches'". ABC News. Retrieved 2016-10-15. 
  26. ^ Steve Peoples and Todd Richmond (November 25, 2016). "With recounts looming, Trump adds new administration picks". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 25, 2016. 
  27. ^ Jeffrey Toobin, The Milwaukee Experiment: What can one prosecutor do about the mass incarceration of African-Americans?, The New Yorker (May 11, 2015).
  28. ^ Damon Marx, Congressman Laughs at Sheriff for Equating Marijuana to Heroin, Crack, AdWeek (May 20, 2015).
  29. ^ a b MKE Sheriff: Blacks sell drugs because they're "lazy," "morally bankrupt": David Clarke criticizes blacks on podcast, WMTJ-TV (November 4, 2015).
  30. ^ a b Daniel Bice, David Clarke tops himself with latest tirade, Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel (November 6, 2015).
  31. ^ Jeremy Stahl, Potential Homeland Security Pick Wanted to Suspend Habeas Corpus, Jail One Million, Slate (November 29, 2016).
  32. ^ Pema Levy, Potential Trump Pick for Homeland Security Wants to Send up to 1 Million People to Gitmo, Mother Jones (November 28, 2016).
  33. ^ "'The People's Sheriff' Is the Latest Addition to TheBlaze Radio Network". TheBlaze. 2015-06-02. 
  34. ^ "A rational defense of Ammon Bundy and the Oregon Occupation: Sheriff David Clarke". 3 Feb 2016. 
  35. ^ Kertscher, Tom. "Which black people did David Clarke call uneducated, lazy and morally bankrupt?". Politifact. Retrieved 17 Nov 2015. 
  36. ^ "Milwaukee Co. Sheriff David Clarke considers 2016 run for mayor". Fox 6 TV. January 31, 2014. 
  37. ^ "Sheriff David Clarke will not run for MKE Mayor in '16". News/Talk 1130 WISN. December 2, 2015. 
  38. ^ Spicuzza, Mary (April 6, 2016). "Mayor Barrett wins easy re-election victory over Donovan". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
  39. ^ "Race for mayor of Milwaukee: Big endorsements for incumbent Tom Barrett, challenger Bob Donovan". Fox 6 TV. March 16, 2016. 
  40. ^ "Riverwest man files lawsuit against Sheriff David Clarke". WISN. 2017-02-03. Retrieved 2017-02-14. 
  41. ^ "Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs Association v. Clarke". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 
  42. ^ Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs Ass'n v. Clarke, 588 F.3d 523 (7th Cir. 2009), aff'g 513 F.Supp.2d 1014 (E.D. Wis. 2007).
  43. ^ Eric M. Johnson. "A black Wisconsin inmate's death by dehydration ruled a homicide". reuters.com. Retrieved January 22, 2017. 
  44. ^ "An Inmate Died Of Thirst In A Jail Run By A Loudly Pro-Trump Sheriff". The Huffington Post. September 19, 2016..
  45. ^ "MCSO Release Related to MCMEO Updated Finding in Terrill Thomas In-Custody Death" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 19, 2016. Retrieved January 22, 2017. 
  46. ^ "Milwaukee inmate's family says dehydration death was torture". AP News. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  47. ^ "Meet the Sheriff". county.milwaukee.gov. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 

External links[edit]