Milwaukee Sheriff Threatens To Arrest Corrections Chief

MILWAUKEE COUNTY, WI &#8211 Michael Hafemann, the new superintendent of the House of Correction, must have known he was going to butt heads with Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.

Clarke relinquished control of the facility earlier this year only after a judge told him to do it.

But even Hafemann couldn’t have expected what happened a week ago.

That’s when Clarke’s second-in-command, Inspector Richard Schmidt, issued an order from Clarke directing Hafemann to take some 70 inmates from the packed County Jail. When Hafemann declined, Schmidt then announced Hafemann would be arrested.

A half-hour later, Schmidt called again to issue the same order, followed by another threat to arrest Hafemann for obstruction of an officer.

“I think my first response was, ‘Are you kidding me?'” Hafemann told No Quarter. “I pointed out to the inspector that, no, I had not violated any law, so there would be no basis whatsoever for an arrest.”

But that wasn’t the end of it.

A day later, on Wednesday night, Schmidt — for the third time — issued another order from the sheriff, even after the House of Correction had admitted about 40 County Jail inmates. But this time, Clarke’s top deputy intoned that if the superintendent didn’t do as told, according to Hafemann, “the world will end tomorrow.”

Hafemann said he had no idea what to make of that.

“Obviously,” he said, “we’re still here.”

Schmidt didn’t respond to calls or an email about the incidents. Clarke’s spokeswoman, Fran McLaughlin, also was mum.

If Clarke follows past practice, he will respond Tuesday morning on Facebook, the sheriff’s official website or local talk radio.

Starting in 2009, Clarke ran the Franklin lockup — which he had renamed County Correctional Facility-South — at the request of then-County Executive Scott Walker. Clarke was credited with fixing serious security, overtime and morale problems at the facility.

But he also instituted a handful of controversial changes, such as feeding inmates deemed to be disciplinary problems a stomach-churning blend of leftovers called Nutraloaf.

Eventually, the County Board approved transferring the management of the facility to an appointed superintendent after complaints by judges and corrections officials that the sheriff had curtailed electronic monitoring and inmate programming in Franklin.

Clarke went to court to try to maintain his control of the facility, but a judge ruled against him in May. He gave up control of the facility to Hafemann, an appointee of Clarke’s chief political foe, County Executive Chris Abele.

Abele issued a statement late Monday saying he fully supports his appointee.

“I continue to share Mike’s belief that we are more responsible and effective when we focus on working together and finding solutions,” Abele said by email.

In an interview Friday, Hafemann said he has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to meet with Clarke to talk about the House of Correction.

“I’ve never met the man,” Hafemann said. “That’s his choice.”

The problems last week were triggered by a surge in individuals at the County Jail, which is still under the sheriff’s control. Under a decade-old consent decree on jail conditions, its population is not to exceed 960 people.

Hafemann, who is reversing a number of Clarke’s get-tough policies at the House of Correction, said he first received an email saying the county exec would be automatically sued if the consent decree were violated. But Hafemann said he had talked to the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the matter and knew that was not the case. The lawyers, he said, were willing to work with the county to deal with temporary overcrowding problems.

On the night of Aug. 27, Hafemann said he was told the jail had 974 inmates. He agreed to take 30 of them, but he noted that didn’t satisfy the sheriff.

Schmidt — Clarke’s No. 2 — then called to say Clarke was ordering Hafemann to accept another 70 inmates.

Hafemann said he declined for a couple of reasons.

First, his staff is already stretched pretty thin. If the sheriff wanted to send some staffers, Hafemann said he was more than welcome to do so. In addition, the move would have required putting the individuals in a mothballed dorm without air conditioning, a section with temperatures as high as 95 degrees last week.

“He said, ‘You still have to open the dormitory and the sheriff is giving you a direct order,'” Hafemann said. “I pointed out it was not a lawful order. The sheriff is not in charge of the House of Correction.”

That just ratcheted up the dispute.

“Inspector Schmidt said, ‘Per the sheriff — this is from the sheriff — if you do not obey this order and open up and let these prisoners in, you will be arrested for obstructing a law enforcement officer,'” Hafemann said.

In response, he said he let Schmidt know that part of the staffing problems were due to cutbacks ordered by Clarke starting in December. Likewise, he said, the sheriff diverted funds intended for the air-conditioning system in the dorm to other projects.

“I pointed out that … the crisis was created by the sheriff and that the sheriff needed to come up with a solution,” Hafemann said.

Clarke’s solution, instead, was to have Schmidt call a half-hour later to repeat the idle threats, all of which Hafemann said he ignored.

Overnight, Hafemann said some slots opened and he was able to take several dozen inmates from the jail, pushing the population at the House of Correction to some 1,550.

Still, Schmidt called again on Wednesday night to suggest the apocalypse was nigh — a bizarre threat given Schmidt is currently earning his divinity degree from a conservative Christian college in northern Wisconsin.

Hafemann said he feels no animosity toward Schmidt for what happened. The inspector, Hafemann said, was simply doing what he was required to do by his boss.

“I didn’t know what the impetus was,” Hafemann said. “It came across as the sheriff was upset that I didn’t do what he wanted or demanded.”

For all the huffing and puffing, the dispute ended without calamity or Hafemann’s arrest.

Instead, the temperature dropped, allowing Hafemann to open the dorm and take the 70 additional inmates, and Schmidt agreed to send some staffers from the sheriff’s office to help deal with the extra bodies.

“As far as I’m concerned, the crisis is over,” Hafemann said.

From The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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