Feds Asking Why People – Even A Newborn – Keep Dying In Right Wing Nut Sheriff David Clarke’s Jail
Inmates, including a newborn baby, have died in a hellish prison run by Sheriff David Clarke
The motto of the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Office is “Expect the Best,” but at least four inmates who have died since April at a Milwaukee prison run by ardent Trump supporter Sheriff David Clarke never had the chance to do that.
And now the Justice Department is wondering why, The Huffington Post reports. It is, in fact, considering opening a federal civil rights investigation of the Milwaukee County Jail.
But Clarke has spent much of the year promoting himself and Trump to conservative media outlets, while blaming anyone else besides himself for the conditions at the prison he’s in charge of.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) asked the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to open an investigation into the practices used by the Milwaukee County Jail. And the DOJ is considering doing this.
— Gwen Moore (@RepGwenMoore) December 21, 2016
“We will carefully consider your letter along with other information we may receive regarding Milwaukee County Jail in order to determine whether a pattern or practice investigation may be necessary,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik in a letter to Moore dated Dec. 15.
“Our decision to open a pattern or practice investigation is based on a number of factors, including the severity and frequency of alleged deprivation of rights; the effectiveness of any remedial actions taken by the jurisdiction to address deficiencies in policies, procedures or practices; the resources of the Special Litigation Section to investigate the allegations; and the need to address systemic deficiencies in other jurisdictions across the country,” he wrote.
And for Eric Harris, Moore’s communications directors, the deaths are unconscionable.
The “shocking number of deaths and the manner in which these individuals died underscore the need for accountability and transparency in our criminal justice system,” he said in a statement.
The manner in which Terrill Thomas died must have been horribly cruel. Thomas, 38, was found dead in a cell at the prison on April 24, nine days after being arrested in connection to a shooting. Other inmates say they heard him begging for water in the days leading up to his death, The Journal Sentinel reported.
According to the Milwaukee County medical examiner, Thomas died from profound dehydration, the Journal Sentinel reports. His death was labeled a homicide, with the medical examiner indicating that it was caused by the actions of another person. Despite this action, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone will be criminally prosecuted in the case.
Inmates say that the water in Thomas’ cell was shut off for six days, and one inmate allegedly told a guard “If something happens to that man, it’s your fault.”
“No one should ever die of dehydration. It just should never happen,” said attorney Erik J. Heipt, a lawyer for the Thomas family.
Dehydration deaths are relatively rare, said Heipt, who has represented the families of those who have lost their lives in jail. He noted one lawsuit surrounding the death of a 25-year-old man who died of dehydration and malnutrition in an Island County Jail in Washington state. That lawsuit was settled for $4 million last year.
“They may well have had reason to turn off the water,” he said. “There absolutely could be reasons why you’d want to turn off someone’s water in their cell. But to then not give them drinking water? That’s crazy,” Heipt said. “To make a human being die of thirst, where they have no ability to get their own water for survival, that’s pretty inhumane. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
Tragically, Thomas’ death is part of a much larger problem. Huffington Post decided to track jail deaths in the year since Sandra Bland died, and found that in this time period, more than 800 deaths have been reported.
The newborn infant died in July after the baby’s mother gave birth in her cell with no jail or medical staff noticing, The Journal-Sentinel notes. The child’s mother, who has since been released and a lawsuit has been filed.
In his statement, Harris noted Clarke is completely avoiding the tragic deaths.
“Unfortunately, Sheriff Clarke has made it clear that he has no intention in addressing the ambiguity surrounding these tragedies,” he said. “It seems the only thing Sheriff Clarke is concerned with right now is supporting President-elect Trump’s post-election victory lap. The families of those who died deserve answers as to how their loved ones lost their lives behind bars on Sheriff Clarke’s watch.”
And the Justice Department’s letter comes as reports surface that Clarke “threatened” and “verbally pummeled” the county’s chief medical examiner who released information on the deaths at the facility. Following that, Milwaukee County is auditing medical care at the facility after a report from a court-appointed monitor said better staffing may have saved lives, The Huffington Post reports.
“Questions certainly can be raised about the occurrence of these four recent deaths and the relationship to officer shortages … as well as the health care staffing vacancies and the adequacy of oversight of staff,” the monitor said in a report.
The Milwaukee County Board is calling for independent investigations into the inmate deaths but can’t really force the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to agree.
And if the Justice Department does decide to open an investigation into the facility before the end of the Obama administration, it will definitely put Trump’s administration in a peculiar position. Clarke had been under consideration for Cabinet-level position, having met with Trump at Trump Tower during the past few weeks. If the investigation is shut down by the incoming administration, it will definitely appear political, especially since the prison has faced court scrutiny in the past, The Huffington Post notes.
Clarke’s office issued the Post a statement on Thursday, and characterized the potential investigation of the prison “fake news,” saying the investigation won’t happen. How sad. If he cared at all about the inmates who died, you’d think he would want to know what went wrong. But apparently he doesn’t see it that way.
It was “clearly nothing more than a political assault on the Sheriff for supporting and playing a key role in helping Donald J. Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States,” the statement continued.
“After January 20, 2017, Sen. Jeff Sessions will become the new Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice. He will take the partisan politics out of decision making at DOJ. The Sheriff looks forward to working with the NEW administration in Making America Great Again!”
But while the sheriff was playing politics on the national stage, basking in the spotlight of conservative adoration, people he was responsible for were dying in the dark cells of his jail.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Image
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Megan was born and raised in Ventura, California. She has since lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Mexico, and Costa Rica. While she has always been a liberal, her travels have informed her politics. She has worked for more than 25 years as a professional journalist writing about crime, the police, local politics, feature stories, environmental issues and a variety of other topics. She now writes for Reverb Press.
Megan supports Black Lives Matter and fights against racism, sexism, the corporatocracy, climate change deniers and others who continue to destroy the planet.