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Is It Time For a New Sheriff in Town?

David Clarke and Chris Moews are vying for your vote

Jul. 23, 2014
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It’s pretty safe to say that Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke didn’t want to talk about his record in office during last Friday’s interview.

When asked about his bid for re-election when voters go to the polls in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary, Clarke batted away the question.

“I find the question to be insulting,” Clarke said. “The reason I do is that the Shepherd Express, three times now, has done nothing but work to defeat me. Why would I think that all of a sudden, today, [editor and publisher] Louis Fortis has had an epiphany and has decided to cover me with an open mind or to cover me objectively?”

When asked why he believes he has earned another term in office, Clarke didn’t stray from his talking point.

“When I talk about thinking that I’m going to get a fair shake or an objective coverage by the Shepherd Express, let’s not kid each other… if I was a black liberal and I was talked about in a way that the Shepherd Express has by a conservative outlet, it would have the Shepherd Express referring to the conservative outlet if you will with the dreaded ‘r’ word—racist—and you know it,” Clarke said.

When asked why his campaign manager agreed to the interview if Clarke didn’t want to talk about his re-election bid, the sheriff said, “Because I have an alternative view and I’m not afraid to express and debate that view with anybody. I am the type of person that encourages a clash of ideas. Like I said, I have an alternative view in this very monolithic environment that I’m in here. My views seem not to matter.”


A Long List of Grievances

Clarke went on to attack the local Democratic Party, which has endorsed his opponent in the Aug. 12 primary, Milwaukee Police Lt. Chris Moews.

The list of grievances about Clarke has lengthened as the sheriff’s rhetoric and unwillingness to truly serve the community has spiked in recent years.

Clarke’s inability to work within his budget belies his self-styled image as a fiscal conservative. After escaping budget cuts for years when Scott Walker was county executive, Walker’s successor Chris Abele cut Clarke’s funding and he and the board transferred the House of Corrections to an administrator.

Clarke has refused to trim his expenses to stay within his budget. The independent, nonpartisan county comptroller estimates Clarke’s budget deficit will be $4.6 million this year. Some of that deficit has been generated by Clarke’s decision to put deputies working on overtime pay at entrances to the courthouse so that they can watch security guards do their work.

Clarke has also been involved in years of high-profile legal disputes over his management of the department. The latest, revealed by FOX6, was filed in federal court by Tanya Weyker, a driver who’d been struck by a sheriff’s deputy in 2013 and broke her neck in the crash. The deputy arrested her for driving while intoxicated because her injuries were so severe she couldn’t perform field sobriety tests. She was sober, however, according to blood tests. Video of the crash that turned up two days after the incident showed that the deputy was at fault. The sheriff’s office knew the video exonerated Weyker, the suit alleges, but sat on it for 10 months. Clarke refused to answer FOX6’s questions about the matter.

Clarke’s increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and conduct in office has also raised questions about his role as a community leader.

Since his last re-election, Clarke has openly supported Republican causes on local and national right-wing media outlets; proudly trumpets on official Milwaukee County letterhead his 2013 award from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, whose leader suggested using women and children as human shields during Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with federal agents; accused Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele of having “penis envy” and being on heroin when crafting the county budget and needing to be drug tested; blasted Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers for being “soft on crime”; provided minimal protection for President Obama during his 2012 visit; employs former Scott Walker spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin, who was given criminal immunity over her role in Walker’s mixing of campaign and county business; and created pro-gun public service announcements.

Despite these questionable actions, Clarke still has allies.

Last week, independent reporter Dominique Noth revealed that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is coming to Clarke’s rescue in the August election. The sheriff’s right-wing talk-radio pals are pitching in to drum up Republican participation in the Democratic primary as well.

Given another chance to explain why he deserved another term, Clarke continued his attack on the Shepherd and complained about the Democratic Party’s treatment of him. “My understanding was that you called to get my take on things and these are the things that I want to talk about, the things that I think are issues,” Clarke said.

During the 20-minute phone interview, the sheriff never offered one substantive reason why voters should support him on Aug. 12.


Moews: ‘It’s Time for Him To Go’

“I think anybody who is a rational individual is going to look at David Clarke’s track record of being $4.6 million over budget, not working well with anybody, cutting vital crime-fighting initiatives and engaging in divisive practices that are going to have long-term destabilizing effects on our community, and they’re going to say enough is enough,” said Clarke’s challenger in the Democratic primary, Milwaukee Police Lt. Chris Moews (pronounced “maize”).

Jackson Park resident Moews, a former seminarian, began his law enforcement career at a handful of suburban police departments but transferred to the MPD in 1996. He is currently the executive officer to the captain at District 7. He told the Shepherd his current duties as the captain’s right-hand person include administrative duties, risk management, running the district’s lockup during the Downtown jail’s renovation, and attending meetings on behalf of the captain.

This is the second time Moews has faced Clarke on the ballot. Four years ago, Moews jumped into the race late and didn’t send out one piece of campaign literature. He got 47% of the vote, and immediately announced his intention to run against Clarke in 2014.

Moews said he’s built his base of support in the past four years at the same time Clarke has picked fights with local leaders, generated multimillion-dollar budget deficits and has engaged in attention-seeking antics that Moews says is making Milwaukee County less safe.

“The Sheriff’s Department is not going after violent criminals and as a result you have a tremendous amount of neighborhoods that have become destabilized,” Moews said. “We have a Sheriff’s Department that is not an effective partner in any crime-fighting strategy that the Milwaukee Police Department or any suburban agency is engaging in.”

Moews is sharply critical of Clarke’s decision to end the gun and narcotics units. As an MPD officer who had conducted drug investigations when he was assigned to the vice squad, Moews said that local law enforcement investigations are hampered by Clarke’s lack of involvement and cooperation.

“We need to have an umbrella agency that has the ability to coordinate and orchestrate collaborative narcotics-enforcement initiatives in this county,” Moews said. “These cases go well beyond the borders of the city of Milwaukee and have an impact on all of our neighborhoods across Milwaukee County and even beyond.”

Moews said he was grateful that District Attorney John Chisholm created a witness protection program within his agency, since the county was left without one when Clarke shuttered his office’s program. After Clarke stopped protecting witnesses, Maurice Pulley Jr. was murdered in his parents’ driveway in 2007 after he agreed to testify against the man who had shot him in an earlier incident and then repeatedly threatened him to keep him silent. Chisholm’s unit is named in Pulley’s honor.

Moews isn’t impressed with Clarke’s management decisions, either. Moews said Clarke is deploying too many deputies to some high-profile areas, such as the lakefront and courthouse doors, but not enough to adequately patrol suburban parks, serve warrants and conduct fraud investigations.

“David Clarke is hard to peg,” Moews said. “He does take these hard conservative positions but then he comes in way over budget and he uses as an excuse that he is a constitutional law enforcement officer. He’s been on the national news saying that he’s a full-service law enforcement agency yet he cut all of these different programs that could have a very positive impact on his community. He says one thing; he does another. I can’t quite figure out what he is, other than an anachronism. It’s time for him to go.”


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