Jail Deaths Weren’t Enough to Keep Sheriff Clarke Out of Trump Administration

The Department of Homeland Security may be about to hire the worst possible person to work in the federal government.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Less than a year after a newborn baby was born and then died in Sheriff David Clarke’s jail, the sheriff appears to be headed to a position at the Department of Homeland Security.

Clarke, who once said he thinks Black Lives Matter activists will team up with ISIS to destroy America, told a conservative Wisconsin talk radio host on Wednesday that he will be assistant secretary in the agency’s Office of Partnership and Engagement.

DHS didn’t dispute Clarke’s announcement.

“The position mentioned is a secretarial appointment,” said DHS spokesperson Jenny Burke. “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.”

As Milwaukee County sheriff and one of President Donald Trump’s few African-American surrogates, Clarke’s national profile ballooned over the last years. He has more than half a million Twitter followers and recently published a book, Cop Under Fire, with a foreword by Sean Hannity. He’s a right-wing darling and makes frequent Fox News appearances. He also gave a red-meat speech at the RNC.

“So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest, and violates the code of conduct we rely on,” he said at the convention. “I call it anarchy.”

But while conservatives love Clarke, his record in Milwaukee is deeply troubling. His sheriff’s office is facing a lawsuit from a woman, Shadé Swayzer, who was held there, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. She was incarcerated when she was almost nine months pregnant. Her lawyer said she called for help from a corrections officer after her water broke in the cell, but he only laughed at her. The child was born alive, according to her lawyer, and cried. The child later died. The sheriff’s office said Swayzer never told staff she was giving birth, and the company that provides medical services to jail said the child was stillborn, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Swayzer’s child isn’t the only recent death in Clarke’s custody.

In April 2016, 38-year-old Terrill Thomas died there of dehydration, as the Chicago Tribune reported. His family is suing the sheriff’s office as well, and they say corrections officers there turned off the water to his cell, where he was held in solitary confinement for 10 days.

In an email to the Tribune, Clarke sounded untroubled by the death.

“I have nearly 1000 inmates. I don’t know all their names but is this the guy who was in custody for shooting up the Potawatomi Casino causing one man to be hit by gunfire while in possession of a firearm by a career convicted felon?” he wrote. “The media never reports that in stories about him. If that is him, then at least I know who you are talking about.”

Although the sheriff didn’t sound particularly outraged by the death of a man in his custody, he is a bombastic opponent of the Black Lives Matter movement. In October 2015, he tweeted that he thought BLM activists would team up with the so-called Islamic State to “destroy” the U.S.

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Clarke is one of a few officials in Trump’s orbit with a direct connection to Vladimir Putin’s government. The Daily Beast reported in March that Clarke traveled to Moscow and met with Putin’s top deputy as part of an NRA delegation in 2015. Clarke got $20,000 worth of airfare, meals, and hotel stays for the trip, which he reported on a financial disclosure statement.

His announcement about DHS drew immediate criticism.

Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat who sits on the committee responsible for DHS oversight, tweeted that his appointment was “a disgrace.” And Juliette Kayyem, who previously held the role under the Obama administration, tweeted that she was “floored” by the news.

“And I feel for my career staff,” she added.