Throughout the presidential campaign, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke traveled the country campaigning for Donald Trump. Earlier this week, Clarke met with the President-elect to discuss a possible appointment to the Trump administration.
Clarke has long been a figure both heralded and disliked.
There are a lot of things that you could point to that make Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke stand out. Sometimes it’s the cowboy hat, other times the horse he’s known for riding, and then there are messages such as this PSA from 2013.
Former Governor Scott McCallum first appointed Clarke to the position of sheriff in 2002. Since then, he’s successfully run for reelection as a Democrat, although many of his views fall under the category of conservative.
“Much like Trump, he is very much driven by his own ego,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz says. She's executive director of the immigrant rights group, Voces De La Frontera. Her group is currently involved in an open records lawsuit against Clarke.
Neumann-Ortiz says over the years, she’s found Clarke to be divisive and dangerous. Besides Clarke urging people during this year’s election to pick up pitch forks and torches, she says there have been a number of questionable deaths at the jail in recent months.
“There’s been four deaths in the county jail that he oversees, one of them being a baby just since April,” Neumann-Ortiz says.
In the case Neumann-Ortiz is referring to a woman allegedly went into labor while detained. She says she asked for help but staff ignored her and the baby died soon after delivery.
In another case, a mentally ill man died of dehydration in the jail after his water supply was allegedly cut-off as punishment. Clarke has yet to comment on any of the recent deaths.
Still, he has earned the support of people across the country.
Richard Mack started the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. In 2013, it honored Clarke with the ‘Sheriff of the Year’ award and Mack has continued praising Clarke for upholding the constitution.
“My wife kind of called Sheriff Clarke the John Wayne of America. And so I think that’s very appropriate. He’s the dark complected John Wayne. He’s my dark complected brother, and I don’t know if you realize this, but Sheriff Clarke’s a Democrat,” Mack says.
The fact that Clarke is African American and conservative are why Donald Trump may be interested in hiring the sheriff, according to Juliet Hooker. She’s professor of government and the African Diaspora at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It’s not racist for us to say this because here’s this black man saying the same thing. It works to absolve Trump and his campaign of racism, David Clarke’s presence and his visibility,” she says.
Clarke was elected to another four-year term as sheriff in 2014. If he were to leave before 2018, the governor would be responsible for appointing Clarke’s successor.