MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who built a following among conservatives with his provocative social media presence and strong support of Donald Trump, said Wednesday that he’s taken a job as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.
The department declined to immediately confirm the appointment.
The tough-talking, cowboy hat-wearing firebrand said in an interview with WISN-AM that he will work in the Office of Partnership and Engagement as a liaison to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. He said he’s leaving his current job next month, but declined to give a date.
“I’m both honored and humbled to be appointed to this position,” Clarke said during the interview.
DHS spokeswoman Jenny Burke said in a statement that “such senior positions are announced by the Department when made official by the Secretary. No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.”
Craig Peterson, a Clarke spokesman, said the sheriff would not comment further and that “he felt the need to tell folks he had accepted the position so the governor could get the ball rolling” on appointing a replacement.
Clarke’s elevation to a national posting would come at a time of great turmoil for him and the sheriff’s office. Seven workers at the county jail he oversees are at the center of a criminal investigation into the dehydration death last year 38-year-old Terrill Thomas, an inmate who prosecutors say was deprived of water as punishment.
The Milwaukee County District’s Attorney’s Office is considering charges against those staffers, based on a jury’s recommendation after prosecutors presented them with evidence during a weeklong inquest.
Clarke wasn’t among the seven staffers on the jury’s list because prosecutors say he wasn’t directly involved in the events leading up Thomas’ death. But the death happened under his leadership, which his critics say was sufficient cause for Clarke to be fired.
Clarke would also be leaving office with several pending lawsuits against him, including one filed by Thomas’ relatives. In February, a 24-year-old Milwaukee man sued the sheriff, saying Clarke had deputies detain and question him after a flight from Dallas because, while boarding, the man shook his head at Clarke.
The sheriff didn’t deny he had the man detained, saying “he reserves the reasonable right to pre-empt a possible assault.”
It’s that in-your-face, won’t-back-down approach that has endeared him to his conservative supporters. He’s been one of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders, frequently praising the president’s every move on Twitter, where his brash social media presence has earned him over 600,000 followers.