DOJ considers patterns/practices investigation into deaths at County Jail

MILWAUKEE -- Congresswoman Gwen Moore said on Twitter Wednesday, December 21st officials with the United States Department of Justice have informed Moore that they're considering a patterns and practices investigation into four deaths within a six-month period at the Milwaukee County Jail.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore

CLICK HERE to read a letter from Rep. Moore to the DOJ, sent on November 21st -- calling for a federal investigation into the Milwaukee County Jail.

CLICK HERE to read the DOJ's response to Moore's letter -- indicating they MAY investigate the jail. The DOJ says in the letter: "We will carefully consider your letter, along with other information we may receive regarding the Milwaukee County Jail in order to determine whether a pattern or practice investigation may be necessary."

A Milwaukee County supervisor, three Democratic state lawmakers and the group The Progressive Moms of Milwaukee have called for Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke's resignation over the deaths at the jail.

Sheriff Clarke had this to say in response to Congresswoman Moore's tweet Wednesday:

“Oh stop it with the fake news. There will be no federal investigation of the jail. The only pattern is that I continue to support Pres-elect Donald Trump. After Jan 20, 2017, Jeff Sessions will head the US DOJ. Then the politics will stop. Moore should work on bringing jobs to black people in Milwaukee and stop embracing criminals. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain “

The Milwaukee County Board on December 15th voted 4-1 in favor of adopting a new policy for investigating in-custody deaths -- specifically deaths that occur at the Milwaukee County Jail and House of Correction.

Ultimately, a change would have to be made to state law. The current law requiring an outside investigation of officer-related deaths doesn't include corrections officers.

Milwaukee County Jail

The vote came during a meeting called by Judiciary, Safety, and General Services Committee members -- calling for Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to discuss two lawsuits filed against Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee County Jail

Both lawsuits involve in-custody deaths -- deaths Rep. Moore, in her letter to the DOJ, called tragic and a result of "inadequate healthcare" -- her letter stating: "I fear that the Milwaukee County Jail is an unsafe environment for its inmates."

Sheriff Clarke did not appear at the meeting called specifically to discuss four deaths within a six-month period at the Milwaukee County Jail -- which Clarke is in charge of.

Some supervisors were upset the Sheriff was not present.

Three Democratic state lawmakers, calling for Sheriff Clarke's resignation over these deaths, outlined the four jail deaths in six months as follows:

Shadé Swayzer, 30, gave birth while in custody. Corrections officers ignored Swayzer’s plea for help after her water broke. She went into labor on July 14, giving birth at 4 a.m. Her baby was pronounced dead later that morning, due to the lack of proper response by staff.

Shade Swayzer

Terrill Thomas, 38, was found dead in his cell on April 24. His death was ruled a homicide caused by dehydration. Thomas suffered from bipolar disorder and was awaiting a psychiatric examination at the time of his death. He was, according to family members, in the throes of a mental breakdown at the time of his arrest. His death occurred nine days after corrections officers reportedly shut off the water from his cell and ignored pleas by Terrill and other inmates for water.

Terrill Thomas

Kristina A. Fiebrink, 38, was found dead in her cell on August 28. A call from family members for an independent investigation into her death is still unfulfilled.

Kristina Fiebrink

Michael Madden, 29, died October 27. The Milwaukee Medical Examiner report alleged he died from hitting his head. He apparently had a seizure. His injury may have been treatable if corrections and medical staff properly screened Madden for substance abuse and monitored him more closely.

Michael Madden

Jason Jankowski is an attorney for two of the families.

"They're distraught," Jankowski said. "(A DOJ review) would get to the bottom of it. It would get answers and allow for the people who messed up to be accountable for their actions."

The contract with Armor, the company that is supposed to provide medical services and take responsibility for the health needs of jailed inmates is currently up for renewal, and the Milwaukee County Board does not have the authority to stop the renewal, which is in the hands of the HOC superintendent and the county’s attorneys.

County auditors are looking into the contract.

In addition to the audit, County Board members have also called for an outsider to conduct a broader investigation into what's going on inside the jail.