By IVAN MORENO and SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Outspoken Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who built a following among conservatives nationally with his provocative social media presence and strong support of Donald Trump, resigned on Thursday.
Clarke submitted his resignation in a one-sentence letter to the county clerk that gave no reason for his departure more than a year before his term is up. In a brief statement a couple of hours later, Clarke also didn’t explain.
“After almost 40 years serving the great people of Milwaukee County, I have chosen to retire to pursue other opportunities,” the statement said. “I will have news about my next steps in the very near future.”
Clarke’s most recent Twitter post from Thursday afternoon showed him posing with law enforcement officers at the National Fraternal Order of Police convention in Nashville.
Clarke’s many liberal foes welcomed his departure.
Voces de la Frontera, an advocacy group for immigrants and low-wage workers, had sharply criticized Clarke for seeking authority for his deputies to perform the functions of immigration agents. The group called his departure “a victory for the people of Milwaukee County and the state of Wisconsin” and claimed credit for driving him out of office.
“After years of abuse at his hands, the people of Milwaukee can sleep soundly tonight,” state Sen. Lena Taylor, a Democrat from Milwaukee and a frequent Clarke critic, said in a statement.
The tough-talking, cowboy hat-wearing firebrand made himself a darling of the political right through his brash social media presence, his staunch support for Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration and his support for patrolling Muslim neighborhoods.
Some Wisconsin conservatives had encouraged Clarke in recent months to challenge U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, but he repeatedly rejected their overtures.
Clarke announced in May that he had taken a job at the Department of Homeland Security, but the agency never confirmed it. He later said he withdrew his name. He recently published a memoir, “Cop Under Fire.”
Clarke was one of the few African-Americans to speak at the Republican National Convention last year. He has been vocal about gun rights and critical of what he called the “hateful ideology” of the Black Lives Matters movement, saying at times, “Stop trying to fix the police. Fix the ghetto.”
Clark has been sheriff of Milwaukee County since 2002 and spent more than two decades before that with the city’s police department.
A lengthy inquest into the dehydration death of a Milwaukee County Jail inmate earlier this year raised troubling questions about how Clarke managed the jail — just as the White House was said to be considering him. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office is considering charges in the case, but not against Clarke, because prosecutors said he wasn’t directly involved in the events that led to the inmate’s death.
Clarke, a frequent Fox News guest, earned more than $105,000 last year in speaking fees — almost as much as his sheriff’s salary — at more than three dozen events across the country.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker would be responsible for appointing someone to serve the remainder of Clarke’s term, which runs through 2018. Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson said once he receives official notification of his resignation, the process of finding a replacement will begin.
Evenson did not immediately respond to an email seeking reaction from the governor to Clarke’s decision to resign.