Inmates Suffer While Held in Milwaukee County Hell…err, Jail
There have been at least four deaths, including the death of a newborn, among inmates held in in Milwaukee County Jail since April of last year. The jail, operated by Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., houses about 950 inmates daily. The deaths occurred after allegations of mistreatment and inadequate medical care.
The jail in its entirety seems to be plagued with corruption and secrecy. Clarke had claimed that he was appointed to serve in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in May 2017, but this was never confirmed by The White House. He then allegedly rescinded his offer the following month due to reports that he had plagiarized portions of his master’s thesis.
Clarke is an African-American Trump supporter who has become known for his outlandish comments regarding race, criminal justice, and politics. In a podcast on his website in 2015, Clarke is quoted as stating members of his own race sell drugs because they “are uneducated, lazy and morally bankrupt.” He also compared the Black Lives Matter campaign to the KKK. Clarke considered running for mayor of Milwaukee in 2016, regularly giving public speeches that pad his pockets.
The death of Terrill J. Thomas from severe dehydration in April 2016 sparked a media fury and a lawsuit against Clarke’s jail. “For seven straight days, from April 17, 2016, until his death on April 24, 2016, Mr. Thomas remained locked alone in his cell, 24 hours a day, as he literally died of thirst,” the complaint stated. “They also deprived him of edible food, a functioning toilet, access to a shower, a sanitary living environment, any relief from 24-hour lockdown, and urgently needed medical and mental health care.” The case is still pending.
Then, a newborn died in July 2016 and prisoner Melissa Hall, 27, filed a lawsuit claiming she was held in shackles while pregnant at the jail. Hall’s suit, filed on March 14, 2017, was granted class-action status. An additional 40 other former prisoners joined in, claiming they had also been shackled while pregnant. This class action follows a suit issued back in 2014 by a woman who alleged she was repeatedly raped by a guard and shackled during 21 hours of labor. Xavier D. Thicklen pleaded guilty to felony misconduct of a public figure and was terminated.
Kristina Fiebrink died while being held in a cell on August 28, 2016, at the age of 38 after failing to be put on a preventative heroin detoxification protocol and 29-year-old Michael Madden died at the jail in October 2016 due to a seizure that caused him to fall and bump his head.
More recently, last month, another lawsuit was filed by inmate Rebecca Terry, who claimed she gave birth in her cell, delivering her own baby without medical care on March 10, 2014, despite crying to guards for help. Terry was then shackled for a week.
Despite a history of well-paid speaking engagements, Sheriff Clarke refused to speak publicly regarding the deaths. “The fact that you would be stonewalling after…deaths at an institution under your command is extremely troubling,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
County officials launched an investigation back December 2016 and it was discovered the jail held a very long history of misconduct. In 2006, Milwaukee County was found in contempt of court for regularly holding prisoners for booking for more than 30 hours, while denying them “medication, decent food, and even the ability to lie down.”
“The sheer number of violations, 16,662, is staggering,” Circuit Court Judge Claire Fiorenza wrote, adding, “Although Milwaukee County contends that it was unaware of the extent of the problem, it is beyond this Court’s comprehension how over 16,000 violations of the consent decree could go undetected.”
“The deaths do raise a lot of questions in terms of the training and supervision of people within [Clarke’s] department, and they’ve had a lot of staff turnover,” stated Peter Koneazny, litigation director for the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee. “We have concerns about the management of the jail, about the overall quality of care and treatment of inmates.”