Sheriff David Clarke, potential Homeland Security Advisor for the Trump administration (and possible plagiarist), is back in the headlines after sharing his version of events from a January incident onboard an American Airlines flight. It seems the Sheriff’s tough reputation — which has earned him national headlines for everything from decrying the Black Lives Matter movement to the death of an inmate in Clarke’s jurisdiction from dehydration — follows him into the friendly skies.
Plaintiff Dan Black had already detailed his side of the story in a formal complaint published by the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. He claims he was harassed by Clarke’s staff after asking Clarke for confirmation that he was, indeed, the famous Sheriff:
“As I passed him,” Black wrote. “I asked if he was Sheriff Clarke, and he responded in the affirmative. I shook my head as I was moving on to my seat near the back of the plane. From behind, he asked if I had a problem. I shook my head ‘no’ again and continued to my seat.”
When the plane landed, Black alleges that Clarke’s deputies were waiting to publicly escort him away from the plane and to another area for questioning. Black says Clarke’s men treated him like a threat, and that the incident was “deeply embarrassing and frightening.” He concluded his complaint with the assertion that “there was absolutely no basis for this incident, and I believe I was the victim of the sheriff’s abuse of power.”
For Clarke’s part of the story, he texted his staff after Black spoke to him while boarding the plane, and asked them to meet him at the Milwaukee airport once the plane landed. The Journal Sentinel reports that Clarke gave careful instructions to Captain Mark Witek for how Black should be handled. “Just a field interview, no arrest unless he become an asshole with your guys. Question for him is why he said anything to me. Why didn’t he just keep his mouth shut?”
This is one of the only details of the story where Black and Clarke’s accounts differ. While Black says he merely asked for confirmation of Sheriff Clark’s identity, Clarke says that Black bent over him and shook his head in an intimidating manner. The statement from Clarke’s lawyer, quoted by the Journal Sentinel, reads:
“Plaintiff then, while standing over Clarke and in very close proximity to Clarke given the confines of the airline cabin, and in a physically threatening manner, stared at Clarke and shook his head at him for a prolonged period of time. Clarke asked plaintiff if he had a problem with him, to which plaintiff did not respond.”
The Journal Sentinel also reports that Clarke also called American Airlines over the incident, in addition to texting his staff. American Airlines in turn contacted Milwaukee County deputies to note, “Sheriff Clarke is coming off our 1534 flight. They called and said there are three passengers that are not being respectful to him.”
The other two passengers haven’t been mentioned in Clarke’s recent statements, nor in Black’s complaint.
This isn’t the first time that Clarke has had a run-in with a fellow plane passenger. In Black’s notes in his complaint, “I did not want to make a scene or get in trouble as a Milwaukee man did in September when confronting Clarke on an airplane. I just moved on and took my seat.”
He was referring to the arrest of Preston Bluntson on September 24, 2016. The Journal Sentinel also reported on that incident, in which Bluntson was accused of being drunk and disruptive on an American Airlines flight from Milwaukee to Charlotte and directing repeated belligerent comments to Sheriff Clarke.
Since Black filed his complaint, Clarke has kept the conversation going, posting memes to his county Facebook page that mock Black and seem to threaten him, calling him “snowflake” (a term often used by the far-right to dismiss those they perceive to be on the left), and ominously explaining that “If Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn’t be around to whine about it.”
The same Facebook page was used to assert that the Sheriff “reserves the reasonable right to pre-empt a possible assault.” That preemption apparently could take the form of “some goof” getting “knocked out.”
Meanwhile, investigation of Black’s complaint seems to have stalled. The Journal Sentinel reports that, although the incident got enough national attention to warrant a federal probe, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson will not to file charges for civil rights offenses. The paper also explains that Milwaukee County auditors are trying to look into whether Clarke wasted county resources detaining Black, despite Sheriff Clarke’s assertion that it’s a “fake investigation.” The county probe is on pause, however, until Clarke leaves office, as he is expected to do to make way for his next job as Homeland Security Advisor.
If the appointment isn’t blocked, that is. Several members of Congress have written to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in hopes he will reject the appointment. Representative Norma J. Torres wrote, “His history of inflammatory statements and outright disdain for the communities he represents make him completely unqualified for this vital position.” And Representative Gwen Moore stated:
“It is clear Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke lacks the temperament and sound judgment required to effectively liaise with local law enforcement on matters of national security. The notion that Clarke — an elected official who continually abuses the power of his office and whose gross negligence contributed to numerous deaths in the jail he manages — is being considered for a position at the Department of Homeland Security should elicit profound concern from every American.”