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Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke resigns

By AP | Last updated: Sep 6, 2017 - 5:34:27 PM

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MILWAUKEE (AP)—The tough-talking sheriff of Milwaukee County, David Clarke, resigned without explanation Aug. 31, capping a tumultuous year for the divisive, provocative lawman whose unabashed support for President Donald Trump and in-your-face personality earned him a national following among some conservatives.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke spoke at the Republican convention in July 2016. Photo: Michael Muhammad

Mr. Clarke submitted his resignation in a one-sentence letter to the county clerk that gave no reason for his departure more than a year before his term is up. In a brief statement, a couple of hours later, Clarke also didn’t explain.

“I have chosen to retire to pursue other opportunities,” the statement said. “I will have news about my next steps in the very near future.”

The national spotlight shone on Mr. Clarke during the Republican National Convention last year, when the cowboy-hat-wearing sheriff took the stage as one of the few African Americans to speak in support of Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

But while Clarke gained the admiration of conservative backers of Trump, he faced lawsuits back home and criticism over the operations at the county jail he oversaw, where four inmates died last year. One of the inmates died of dehydration because jail staff shut off water to his cell as punishment. Mr. Clarke’s many liberal foes welcomed his departure.

“After years of abuse at his hands, the people of Milwaukee can sleep soundly tonight,” state Sen. Lena Taylor, a Democrat from Milwaukee and a frequent Clarke critic, said in a statement.

Voces de la Frontera, an advocacy group for immigrants and low-wage workers, had sharply criticized Mr. Clarke for seeking authority for his deputies to perform the functions of immigration agents. The group called his departure “a victory for the people of Milwaukee County and the state of Wisconsin” and claimed credit for driving him out of office.

Mr. Clarke’s most recent Twitter post from Aug. 31 showed him posing with law enforcement officers at the National Fraternal Order of Police convention in Nashville.

The firebrand sheriff made himself a darling of the political right through his brash social media presence, his staunch support for Mr. Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration and his support for patrolling Muslim neighborhoods.

He has been vocal about gun rights and critical of what he called the “hateful ideology” of the Black Lives Matters movement, saying at times, “Stop trying to fix the police. Fix the ghetto.”

Mr. Clarke announced in May that he had taken a job at the Department of Homeland Security, but the agency never confirmed it. He later said he withdrew his name. He recently published a memoir, “Cop Under Fire.” On Aug. 27, Trump sent a tweet promoting the book.

Mr. Clark had been sheriff of Milwaukee County since 2002 and spent more than two decades before that with the city’s police department.

This year, two former inmates who were pregnant during their time at the sheriff’s jail filed lawsuits alleging they were shackled while giving birth. And the family of the man who died of dehydration, Terrill Thomas, also filed federal lawsuits.

At the same time, Milwaukee prosecutors are considering criminal charges against some members of Mr. Clarke’s jail staff for Thomas’ death. A lengthy inquest in that case revealed that Clarke’s staff routinely shut off water to inmates’ cells as a form of punishment.

Prosecutors are not considering charges against Mr. Clarke because they said he wasn’t directly involved in the events that led to Thomas’ death.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker would be responsible for appointing someone to serve the remainder of Clarke’s term, which runs through 2018.