Who is Sheriff Clarke of Milwaukee County? A Brief Guide

May 22, 2017
David A. Clarke Jr., the sheriff of Milwaukee County, was back in the news last week after announcing that he had been appointed to the Department of Homeland Security. (The Trump administration itself has not confirmed the appointment.)
Over the weekend, a CNN report accused him of plagiarizing parts of his 2013 master’s thesis, a charge that he has denied.
Sheriff Clarke has become a controversial figure because of the treatment of prisoners at the Milwaukee County Jail he supervises, his rhetoric regarding gun rights and criminal justice and his excoriation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here’s a quick look at the sheriff’s moments in the spotlight.
Who Is David A. Clarke Jr.?
Sheriff Clarke, 60, joined the Milwaukee Police Department in 1978 and has been the Milwaukee County sheriff since 2002. He was appointed to the post by the state’s Republican governor, Scott McCallum, and has since been re-elected four times as a Democrat, most recently in 2014. He has risen to prominence in recent years as a supporter of Donald J. Trump and as a conservative commentator on Fox News and Glenn Beck’s radio network.
What has he done while in office?
Sheriff Clarke is responsible for the policing of the county’s freeways and its courts, and he supervises the county jail. In 2009, he was put in charge of the Milwaukee House of Correction, but was forced to relinquish control in 2013. He has been accused of overstepping the responsibilities of his office since early in his tenure, according to a 2003 profile in Milwaukee Magazine.
Sheriff Clarke’s stewardship of the Milwaukee County Jail, where four inmates died in 2016, has earned significant scrutiny. In November, Representative Gwen Moore, Democrat of Wisconsin wrote a letter to the Justice Department urging an investigation into the conditions at the jail.
Two federal lawsuits have been filed against his office since December relating to those deaths, including one filed by the family of a woman whose infant daughter was pronounced dead after she gave birth in her cell. In May, a jury recommended that prosecutors file criminal charges against seven of the jail’s employees over an inmate who died of dehydration after going a week without water.
What does he believe?
Though the sheriff has run for office as a Democrat, his positions on issues from gun control to abortion to mass incarceration are considered extremely conservative. A frequent presence on right-wing media since 2014, he has been an avid supporter of President Trump and endorsed him as a candidate in a speech at the Republican National Convention. He appears frequently on Fox News and in 2015 started hosting a weekly radio show for The Blaze, Mr. Beck’s media network.

On Gun Control:
Sheriff Clarke gained national attention in 2013, when he released radio ads urging civilians to learn how to handle firearms to protect themselves from criminals. “Simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option,” one of the ads said.
His 2014 primary race drew more than $600,000 in outside spending, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, as gun-control advocates poured money into his opponent’s campaign, and the National Rifle Association called on support for the incumbent sheriff.
On prison reform:
Even as sky-high incarcerations rates have become a bipartisan concern over the last decade, Sheriff Clarke has remained staunchly supportive of harsh penalties for nonviolent criminals, a position that unites him with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In a video promoting his 2014 campaign, he said that rehabilitation is “not something for the criminal justice system to do” and that inmate programs such as job training rewarded criminals and promoted recidivism.
On Black Lives Matter:
Some of the most attention-getting statements by Sheriff Clarke, who is African-American, have concerned the Black Lives Matter demonstrations for civil rights and against police bias, which he consistently refers to as “Black Lies Matter.” In 2015, Sheriff Clarke even went so far as to say that the movement would “join forces with ISIS.”
What Happened Last Week?
On May 17, Sheriff Clarke appeared on a Milwaukee radio show and said he had been asked to serve as an assistant secretary in charge of the office that coordinates the Department of Homeland Security’s outreach efforts for state, local, tribal, territorial governments and local law enforcement agencies.
The White House declined to comment on Sheriff Clarke’s announcement, and the Homeland Security Department, in an emailed statement, said that “such senior positions are announced by the department when made official by the secretary. No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.” Such an appointment would not require Senate confirmation.
On Saturday, CNN published a report alleging that the sheriff had failed to properly attribute his sources at least 47 times in his 2013 master’s thesis on United States security, while studying at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
Though Sheriff Clarke credited his source material using footnotes, according to the CNN report, he failed to use quotation marks to indicate which sections were taken verbatim from other sources, something that the school’s guidelines on plagiarism require. A school spokesman confirmed to The Associated Press that it had removed Sheriff Clarke’s thesis from its online archive on Friday.
The sheriff attacked the CNN reporter who wrote the first report, Andrew Kaczynski, several times on Twitter, calling him a “sleaze bag” while reposting tweets from others pointing out that he had cited his sources.

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