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Milwaukee County Board Approves Outside Investigations Into Jail Deaths

Some people are unhappy with the call for outside investigations into deaths at the jail because they say it does not go far enough

The Milwaukee County Board wants an outside investigation conducted, every time an inmate dies in a county facility.

The plan appears directed at Sheriff David Clarke, because of four people who’ve died in the County Jail since April. The board approved the plan by a 15 to 1 vote, and not everyone is satisfied.

For weeks now, some elected officials and members of the public have been calling on Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to resign. One of them is Supervisor Supreme Moore Omukunde.

“He has proven that he is not willing to work with this board, with this county, we’re in multiple lawsuits and he’s not even here today,” Moore Omokunde says.

Omukunde put forth the proposal calling for a third party to investigate in the Milwaukee County Jail and the House of Corrections.

“From my perspective, there is an abhorrent culture in our jails at this point in time. Based upon the calls that I’ve received, based upon the e-mails that I’ve received, based upon other communications, there seems to be a negligent and lukewarm, if I may use that term, culture towards people who are in our jails,” Moore Omokunde says.

The board’s Judiciary Committee advanced the proposal before a standing room only meeting just hours before the full board took up the measure.  The group Progressive Moms of Milwaukee showed up to support of the proposal. Member Lauryl Sulfate mentioned two deaths that occurred in the jail. One was a baby just born in a cell; another was Terrill Thomas, who died of dehydration.

“Terrill Thomas’ death was ruled a homicide. He was not neglected. He was a victim. He was not a victim of under staffing, he was abused until he died. Terrill Thomas was somebody’s baby. Shade Swayzer is somebody’s mother. The job of the sheriff is to protect all of Milwaukee’s people, all of the citizens. That includes the accused and the convicted,” Sulfate says.

The only supervisor to vote against the proposal was Deanna Alexander.

“I care very deeply about people, and I think that every person that goes into our jail matters, absolutely. But I do think that if a person has poor health or if a person is going through withdrawals or if a person has overdosed on drugs and they are brought to the jail, simply because they die at the location of the jail does not automatically imply that it is the fault of the jailer or necessarily even the medical staff,” Alexander says.

Alexander says the District Attorney already has the power to investigate any suspicious deaths. Community member Mary Watkins insists it’s all not enough.

“It’s a systemic issue. So long after Clarke is gone, we’re still going to continue to have these issues until we got to the root of the problem. And that’s just too many people in jail, too much stuff going on and not enough being done about it. That’s at the root of the problem, bottom line. And I just don’t think this resolution addresses any of that. It’s toothless, it’s mostly just to me busy work,” Watkins says.

The measure the board approved would only require outside investigations at the House of Corrections because the county operates that facility. They would only be advisory for the jail, because the sheriff oversees that center, and he is independently elected by voters.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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