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As Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s national profile has risen, a congresswoman has increasingly pressed him over the biggest controversy facing him: a string of deaths at the county jail his office is tasked with overseeing.
“I’m alarmed,” Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin told Business Insider in a recent phone interview. “Particularly when I continue to hear from staffers from President-elect Trump that they’re still looking for a place to put Sheriff Clarke [in the administration] in an area of security. And this is very, very concerning.”
Over the last year, four people have died at the jail overseen by Clarke, who has come under fire from locals who say he has neglected his job while chasing stardom with his hard-nosed punditry. One man died of dehydration; another was a newborn baby delivered by an inmate.
A major surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump, Clarke was mostly quiet regarding the jail deaths until recently, when Moore announced that the Justice Department, with weeks to go until Trump’s inauguration, told her it’s considering an investigation.
“Who is responsible for that?” Moore said. “How did that happen? These are my constituents, and this affects them. This is a basic delivery of service. And I want to know why that baby died, and I’m not going to be distracted by his antics and his rants and everything else.”
Clarke has dismissed criticism of his operation of the Milwaukee County Jail as “political attacks.” In a Facebook post, he said Moore was “ghost-chasing” because he played a “key role” in getting Trump elected. Moreover, Clarke told Wisconsin Watchdog that jail populations include people who have made poor health choices that can contribute to their deaths.
“Two inmates suffered from severe cardiac disease, which became critical when coupled with the effects of hardcore drug usage prior to their incarceration, with their extensive drug histories independently noted in their death investigations,” he said. He also said the jail has a private contract with a healthcare provider and that it should answer questions about any shortcoming.
Moore said she was appalled by his response to the jail deaths.
“He could’ve easily said: ‘We’re going to investigate this. We’re going to figure out what happened,'” she said. “You know, he could’ve picked up the phone and called the families and reassured them. He did none of that.”
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The Democratic congresswoman from Milwaukee tweeted last week that Clarke would have more time to deal with issues at home if he wasn’t seeking “an internship” with Trump. She said he’s been “more concerned with his brand” than his job.
“I just would must rather he administered the jails in a safe way, that he provided people with basic dignity and healthcare,” she said. “I’m tired of clown acts. You know, the phrases – ‘black lies matter.’ You know, why not embrace Black Lives Matter starting with that baby in the jail?”
She called the response from the Justice Department to her November letter regarding the deaths at the jail a “camel’s nose under the tent” that she believes is needed to get answers about what exactly happened.
“I’ll be able to wave this letter around in the next administration,” she said. “Hopefully, Jeff Sessions will not be the [attorney general], but even if he is, I was just sworn into the 115th Congress on January 3. I’m going to be here, so my letter and my voice will still be here.”
Clarke, through his spokeswoman, declined to comment.