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Milwaukee Candidates Clash In Race to Succeed The Infamous Sheriff Clarke

Several candidates are vying to become Milwaukee Sheriff in the wake of Sheriff David Clarke's resignation last fall. But will they truly spurn his legacy of jail deaths and cooperation with ICE?

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. speaks at the NRA-ILA's Leadership Forum in 2017
Scott Olson/Getty

Milwaukee Candidates Clash In Race to Succeed The Infamous Sheriff Clarke

Several candidates are vying to become Milwaukee Sheriff in the wake of Sheriff David Clarke's resignation last fall. But will they truly spurn his legacy of jail deaths and cooperation with ICE?

On Tuesday, Milwaukee County will hold its first primary election for sheriff since David Clarke resigned from the position in September 2017 to join America First Action, a Trump-supporting SuperPAC. President Trump, Clarke said just before joining the SuperPAC, “does not have a racist bone in his body.” During his tenure, Clarke also said Black Lives Matter should be added to a list of “hate groups,” declared that “systemic racism in America is so rare today that some feel it necessary to make up stories to keep the lie about it alive” and, much more significantly, had three people die in his jail during his final year in office alone.

The Democratic primary election will have three opponents, including Richard Schmidt, who became interim sheriff when Clarke resigned, Earnell Lucas, who is head of Major League Baseball security, and Deputy Robert Ostrowski. Schmidt and Lucas say they’re opposed to Sheriff Clarke’s record on everything from jails to immigration, despite Schmidt serving as senior commander under Clarke and being named as a defendant in multiple wrongful death lawsuits from Clarke’s reign including the in-custody death of Terrill Thomas. In 2016, Thomas died of dehydration in the jail after guards shut off his water for one week. Several officers involved in the incident were charged with felonies by the county’s district attorney, including Major Nancy Evans who was accused of “withholding information from her superiors, lying to her superiors, failing to preserve evidence, repeatedly lying to law enforcement investigators and lying at the inquest.” The jail also faced sexual assault allegations under Clarke—one woman who filed a lawsuit claimed that she was raped five times by a guard while incarcerated at age 19.

In an interview with The Appeal, Schmidt insisted that he was not responsible for the jail deaths: “I cannot take responsibility for something I didn’t run.” He added that he has made significant changes to the jail’s operation—such as changing its healthcare administrator and hiring three wellness coordinators—since becoming acting sheriff last year.

But for some local activists, Schmidt’s proximity to Sheriff Clarke is troubling. “Schmidt does represent a continuation of the Clarke administration,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrants rights organization and workers’ center in Wisconsin, told The Appeal, “He ran the day-to-day operations under Clarke.” Yesterday, Voces de la Frontera held a press conference at the county jail “to condemn Richard Schmidt’s role in deaths” there including James Perry, who died in 2010 after being violently restrained by law enforcement after he suffered seizures.  

And while Schmidt and Lucas claim to be criminal justice reformers, their policy positions reflect a more conservative stance. Schmidt says he doesn’t support the 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws. However, local nonprofits told The Appeal that when they asked Schmidt to withdraw the department’s 287(g) application, he did not do so. And under Schmidt’s leadership the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office honors ICE detainer requests—a continuation of Sheriff Clarke’s policy.

Lucas’s campaign, meanwhile, told The Appeal that he would not honor ICE detainers, except in certain cases. “An ICE detainer is a request, not a warrant,” a spokesperson from his campaign said. “Absent a warrant, Earnell will only honor ICE detainers if a rigorous screening process determines the person to be a threat to self, others, or to the community.  Otherwise, it will not be Earnell’s policy to honor ICE detainers.” In an interview with The Appeal, Lucas declared, “We have more pressing needs for holding persons in our jail than individuals who simply do not have the proper documentations.”

Neumann-Ortiz called ICE detainers “part of the ICE immigration machinery that undermines public safety [and] public trust” and cited Lucas’s commitment to not make ICE holds as one of the reasons Voces de la Frontera support him. “With such an aggressive assault and escalation of these policies that we’re seeing at the border and we’re seeing in the interior, it’s very critical that in every county and in every police department that we win these policies of non-collaboration with the sharing or holding of people [for ICE],” she told The Appeal.

Activists, organizers, and nonprofit organizations in Milwaukee have engaged in a years-long battle with Clarke and they believe that their organizing was a decisive factor in his abrupt resignation. Indeed, seven months before Clarke resigned, Voces de la Frontera organized a general strike called “Day Without Latinos,” which brought 80,000 people to the steps of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The action garnered widespread media attention and inspired a national general strike called “A Day Without Immigrants.”

Now, organizers view the coming election as a chance for Milwaukee to truly close the book on Clarke’s civil rights-trampling reign. “It’s important we have our voices heard in this process because every day our communities are being over policed,” Angela Lang executive director of  Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) told The Appeal. “We’re confronted with systemic and institutional racism on a daily basis …[and] we see Black and brown communities constantly being over policed and attacked for merely existing.”

The ‘Streamline’ Program to Prosecute Immigrants is Ensnaring Kids by Mistake

‘Operation Streamline’ speeds up immigration prosecutions.

U.S.-Mexico border fence in San Diego, California.
Mario Tama / Getty

The ‘Streamline’ Program to Prosecute Immigrants is Ensnaring Kids by Mistake

‘Operation Streamline’ speeds up immigration prosecutions.

On Aug. 1, a judge in the Southern District of California tossed aside a conviction of a minor, after the government found out that it had prosecuted and sentenced a Mexican citizen who was under 18 for a federal misdemeanor. Ordinarily, minors from Mexico arrested at the border are returned as soon as possible. Those from noncontiguous countries, like Honduras, are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, and those being charged with more serious crimes, like importing drugs, are handled in state courts, which have greater protections for minors. Federal defenders in the Southern District are now pointing to this botched case as the result of a program known as “Operation Streamline” which, since the beginning of July, has been expediting the prosecution of immigrants and allows them to be charged, plead guilty, and be sentenced in under half an hour.

Operation Streamline was expanded to the Southern District of California last month after the implementation of the Department of Justice’s “zero tolerance” policy in the spring, which aimed to prosecute as many people arrested at the border as possible. The court and federal jail system is now straining under the weight of a sixteenfold increase in prosecutions for misdemeanor illegal entry compared with last June. The Southern District created a special process in which people caught crossing the border would be held by Border Patrol until they arrived in court, where they would be offered the option to take a plea deal at their initial appearance. Through Operation Streamline, the court sought to relieve federal jails of the crush of people now being federally charged and accommodate the preferences of the executive branch.

On the evening of Saturday, July 21, Sabrina*, a Mexican citizen, crossed the U.S.-Mexico border near Tecate, California, and was spotted by a Border Patrol agent just a quarter of a mile from the border. She was then questioned, arrested, and spent the rest of the weekend sleeping on the floor of a Border Patrol station filled with other people arrested at the border. She was given a thin blanket and was not allowed to bathe or brush her teeth.

That following Monday, she was brought to a garage of the federal building in downtown San Diego. Since the beginning of Operation Streamline, the garage has been converted to a makeshift meeting room for immigrants being charged with federal misdemeanors and their lawyers. Sabrina had a few minutes to discuss with her public defender whether she would want to take a speedy plea deal or remain in federal custody as she fights her case.

Federal public defenders have described to The Appeal the significant pressure that immigrants like Sabrina face to plead guilty in exchange for a time-served deal, which would allow them, theoretically, to be returned to Mexico in a matter of hours instead of waiting in detention for days or weeks as their criminal case plays out. Having a federal misdemeanor on your record, however, carries serious consequences for your possible future immigration status in the United States.

With the government and the courts trying to rush through prosecutions, defense attorneys are scrambling to make sure they are providing adequate representation for their clients—and that means doing things like confirming their client is as old as they say they are. That Monday, Sabrina had told her lawyer she was born on Feb. 13, 2000, which would mean she was 18. Federal defenders have told The Appeal that they aren’t certain why some defendants misrepresent their ages during interviews with them. However, with only a few hours before their criminal case reaches the sentencing phase, defenders are unable to call family members or governments to confirm the age of their clients, something they do whenever they think a client might be a minor.  

The court wasn’t able to process all of the guilty pleas that had been entered that day, so Sabrina pleaded guilty to illegal entry, a federal misdemeanor, on the morning of Wednesday, July 25, before Federal Magistrate Judge Robert N. Block.

As immigration custody processed Sabrina for her removal from the United States, she gave her real birthdate, which established her as younger than 18. But by then, the government had already charged and sentenced a minor.

On Aug. 1, federal defenders, along with prosecutors, asked Judge Block to stop the judgment, which stays the decision of of a court after a verdict has been reached because it is erroneous or likely to be reversed. The federal public defenders placed the blame for this invalid prosecution on Operation Streamline.

“This error is tied to ‘Streamline,’” Ben Davis, an attorney at the Federal Defenders of San Diego, told Block in court. “There’s not enough time to interrogate the facts when there are so many pressures to plead guilty.”

Block granted the motion, but refused to assign blame to the expedited-prosecution program. “This is on the defense counsel during the interview process,” Block responded to Davis.

Davis explained that normally he would have time to investigate and get in touch with family members, but Block cut him off. “That’s another reason why you shouldn’t plead guilty,” he told Davis, saying he was not interested in commenting on Operation Streamline.

But the coercive nature of the process continues to put federal defenders in a difficult situation. The same day that Block charged and sentenced Sabrina for a federal misdemeanor, he also began refusing to accept guilty pleas unless defense lawyers stated their personal opinion that their clients weren’t being coerced to take plea deals. Attorneys from the Federal Defenders of San Diego refused to answer that question, citing a conflict of interest between what they believe—that Streamline is coercive by its very nature—and what’s best for their clients. The result has been that several clients were unable to plead guilty during their initial appearances despite their wish to do so.

“I have a duty of loyalty to the client and also I have a duty of candor to the court,” federal public defender Michelle Angeles told Block during an Operation Streamline hearing on July 25. “So that puts me in conflict with what my client wants and my duty to your honor to be honest about what my thoughts are answering the question.”

Block then told defense attorneys that he was worried about missing his train and that they could either say their client hadn’t been coerced to plead guilty or their client remain in custody.

“I cannot tell you that Operation Streamline is not coercive. I believe it is coercive. However, by saying this, you’ve now told my clients that it is my position and my concerns and my feelings that are keeping them in jail,” explained federal public defender Kimberly Trimble.

Later in the hearing, as federal defender Roxana Sandoval attempted to speak on behalf of her client before his sentencing, Block began to count down the seconds she had to do so:

THE COURT: The Court has to control its calendar. I’ll give you 60 seconds, 60 seconds.

SANDOVAL: I can’t limit the —

THE COURT: You’ve just wasted five of them.

SANDOVAL: — sorrow and grief that he has gone through because he —

THE COURT: You’ve just wasted 10 of ’em.

“Just for the record, I didn’t cut counsel off at 60 seconds,” Block noted after Sandoval finished speaking.

According to federal defenders, prosecutors are continuing to bring minors into federal courtrooms in their effort to prosecute as many immigrants as possible. On the afternoon of Aug. 3, for example, Judge Jill Burkhardt determined that a Mexican immigrant being prosecuted for misdemeanor illegal entry was a minor. Once the mistake was realized and the minor was brought into court to have their case dismissed, the courtroom was quickly cleared of press and observers to protect the child’s identity.  Judge Burkhardt then ordered the case sealed.

But Sabrina didn’t receive that type of treatment. By the time her judgment was arrested, she had already been deported.  


*Name changed to protect the identity of a minor.

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For Some Local Prosecutors, the Post-Roe World is Already Here

As the potential demise of Roe v. Wade looms, past and current prosecutions of pregnant women illustrate what lies ahead.

Abortion protesters at a demonstration outside a Planned Parenthood office in Washington, D.C., last year. Protests were held around the country calling on the government to defund Planned Parenthood.
Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images

For Some Local Prosecutors, the Post-Roe World is Already Here

As the potential demise of Roe v. Wade looms, past and current prosecutions of pregnant women illustrate what lies ahead.

In December 2015, Anna Yocca was arrested for attempting to induce her own abortion with a coat hanger. She spent over a year in jail as Rutherford County, Tennessee, prosecutors tried repeatedly to bring felony charges against her. When an attempted murder charge didn’t stick, they indicted her in February 2016 on charges of aggravated fetal assault. To do so, they relied on a 2014 law intended to criminalize drug use during pregnancy. But with the contested law set to expire in July of that year, and no evidence that Yocca had used drugs, that failed too.

That didn’t deter prosecutors: Next, they brought three new felony charges against the 32-year-old. Facing charges of attempted criminal abortion, aggravated assault with a weapon, and attempted procurement of a miscarriage, Yocca pleaded guilty in January 2017 to the latter in exchange for her release.

Cases like Yocca’s often seem like a glimpse into a dystopian future, especially now, as anxiety mounts over the tenuous fate of Roe v. Wade. When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June and President Trump tapped Brett Kavanaugh, a staunch conservative, to replace him, journalists and advocates were quick to predict doom for reproductive rights. But in many localities across the country, women like Yocca already know what it’s like to live in a post-Roe world, a world dominated by state lawmakers and local prosecutors.

“When they are determined to control and prosecute pregnant women, [prosecutors] are extremely resourceful, if you will, creative, and can be relentless in their determination to find a way to lock up women for having had abortions,” Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), told The Appeal. (Paltrow and her NAPW colleagues advised Yocca’s defense attorney throughout the ordeal.) The Rutherford County district attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

While the overturning of Roe would indeed be devastating to the reproductive freedom of pregnant and non-pregnant women alike, advocates say that more arrests are inevitable either way. “For many of the people we work with and for, Roe has become increasingly meaningless,” says Jill Adams, founder and chief strategist of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law’s Self-Induced Abortion (SIA) Legal Team. “We are in a moment of crisis, we’ve been in a moment of crisis, and how bad the crisis will become is probably a matter of degree.”

Both Adams’s and Paltrow’s organizations have documented dozens of arrests of pregnant women after Roe. Between 1973, the year of the Roe decision, and 2005, NAPW documented 413 cases across 44 states in which “a woman’s pregnancy was a necessary factor leading to attempted and actual deprivations of a woman’s physical liberty.” The majority of these arrests and detentions were made using criminal laws that were never intended to target pregnant women. Adams and her colleagues at SIA documented 21 post-Roe arrests of women in connection with self-managed abortions induced outside clinical settings, many of which involved ending a pregnancy by self-administering abortion pills.

Feticide laws in particular have increasingly been used to target women who end their pregnancies. Currently, 38 states have fetal homicide laws on the books, the majority of which can be applied at any stage of a pregnancy, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of these laws were introduced to punish violent acts by third parties against women that result in the end of their pregnancies. But in some states, prosecutors use these laws to punish pregnant women themselves.

Perhaps best known among these cases are those of Bei Bei Shuai and Purvi Patel in Indiana. Lawmakers enacted a feticide statute in the state six years after Roe, two years after the state repealed its ban on abortion.

In 2011, Bei Bei Shuai was charged with attempted feticide in Marion County, Indiana, after trying to end her life by eating rat poison. While being treated for poisoning, she delivered a child that soon died from a bleed in her brain. Shuai spent more than a year in jail before being released after agreeing to plead guilty to criminal recklessness. In exchange, the Marion County prosecutor dropped the attempted murder and feticide charges against her.

In 2013, Patel sought to end her pregnancy using misoprostol and mifepristone, abortifacient drugs she purchased online. After delivering a 25-week-old stillborn fetus at home and disposing of its remains, she sought assistance at a hospital in Mishawaka while rapidly losing blood. Patel was later convicted of feticide and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Though Patel’s sentence was later overturned by an appellate court, both her case and Shuai’s remain prime examples of how feticide laws can be twisted, regardless of their original intent, by prosecutors seeking to burnish their own reputations by punishing pregnant women.

Kathrine Jack, an Indiana-based attorney who represented Shuai and amicus curiae in the Patel case, believes the appellate opinion that overturned Patel’s sentence is binding and should prevent similar prosecutions under the state’s feticide law. “That opinion was pretty clear in saying it was not intended to prosecute the women in relation to their own pregnancies,” Jack said. In March, the state’s feticide law was amended to clarify that it is not to be used against women who end their pregnancies, further solidifying its original intent.

Yet in February, a Madison County prosecutor charged another woman with feticide and involuntary manslaughter after the death of her newborn son, which was attributed by doctors to the 34-year-old’s use of meth and other drugs during her pregnancy. “Every county in Indiana has a prosecutor, and despite the outcome in the Shuai and Patel cases, future cases are in the hands of all the different prosecutors at this point,” said Jack. “Obviously, this prosecutor in Madison has a different interpretation [of the Patel opinion].”

In addition to feticide laws, some local prosecutors are dredging up archaic, rarely used laws to incriminate women who end their pregnancies in nonclinical settings. Such was the case in Chesterfield, Virginia, last year, after police found fetal remains in a woman’s backyard. The woman, Michelle Roberts, was arrested on charges of “producing abortion or miscarriage,” a 1950 law that criminalizes any action taken “with intent to destroy her unborn child.”

Lawyers from SIA, NAPW, and the ACLU of Virginia are all assisting with Roberts’s case. As with feticide laws, advocates argue that the charge brought against Roberts relies on a misinterpretation of the law’s original intent, which was to punish third parties, namely abortion providers. “Michelle is standing trial for a nonexistent crime,” Adams said.

Last September, Judge David Johnson of Chesterfield County rejected a motion to dismiss the case filed by Roberts’s lawyer, writing in his opinion that the law does not exclude the prosecution of expectant mothers. Because the case is ongoing, the commonwealth attorney’s office of Chesterfield County declined to comment.

While Adams and her colleagues are working on a legislative strategy to “clean up antiquated abortion laws,” she said, and build on legal precedent from the Ninth Circuit that struck down Idaho’s abortion ban in 2015, they are also focusing their attention on prosecutorial power.

“Because overzealous prosecutors are reaching and grabbing for whatever charges they can throw that will stick on a person, there’s culture change work that needs to happen in the legal field,” said Adams, adding that groups like hers are trying “to educate members of the bar and bench to avoid unnecessary prosecutions.”

“The legality [of self-managed abortion] at any time in any state is governed by a complex cobweb of criminal and civil laws and regulations, and then it’s influenced by the powers of law enforcement,” she said. “All of this is made even less predictable because of prosecutorial discretion and how far that reaches.”

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