WJI is reposting reporting from the old storyhill.net website and affidavits from County Jail inmates unfortunate enough to be booked during Sheriff David Clarke's tenure to show just what kind of malfeasance the public can expect if President-elect Donald Trump gives Clarke a federal job.
The affidavits were part of a court case alleging thousands of men and women were improperly detained in the jail under excessive lengths of time, in violation of a 2001 consent decree.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Clare Fiorenza eventually found the county in contempt of court for the violations.
Clarke's jail scandal: "dangerous" conditions alleged
Inmates denied sleep, decent food, medications, filings say
Aug. 1, 2005 -- Conditions in the County Jail's overcrowded booking area -- where Sheriff David Clarke's staff improperly held thousands of inmates for long periods -- were "degrading, dehumanizing, and dangerous to both inmates and jail personnel," according to documents filed in Circuit Court.
"Lab animals get better treatment than inmates in the county jail booking room," a former inmate said in an affidavit.
"The floor was always a mess from urine and toilet paper around the toilet and trash from uneaten sandwiches on the floor," said another. "It was disgusting, aggravating, unsanitary, and frustrating...it reminded me of drawings I have seen of slave ships with slave packed as close together as they could be with no room to move."
Important medications were withheld from inmates, silverfish crawled on concrete floors where men and women jammed into small holding cells tried to sleep, and communal toilets were filthy with urine and feces, according to the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation Inc.
"Lab animals get better treatment than inmates in the county jail booking room."
A judge already has said that the Sheriff's Department violated a 2001 consent decree by holding inmates in the jail's booking hour for more than 30 hours. There were more than 16,600 violations over a 1 1/2 year period, according to the ACLU and Legal Aid. More than 5,600 people were held in booking for two or more days, they said.
"There were no beds in booking, and no blankets or pillows. The lights were on continuously, both in open waiting and in the cells," the ACLU and Legal Aid said in a brief.
"I was shocked that we were expected to stay awake for several days without the ability to shower, brush our teeth or change our undergarments," one former inmate said in an affidavit.
The overall booking area inmate population often exceeded the 110 anticipated by the consent decree, according to the brief.
The booking area includes an open waiting area with benches and 17 or so holding cells. Inmates are not allowed to lie down in the open area, and most of the cells have a single cement slab big enough for one adult to lie on, according to the filings.
The cells, under state standards, would be big enough for one or two inmates to sleep in if they had beds, Legal Aid and ACLU said.
County jail inmates in booking, however, were jammed eight to thirteen to a cell for shifts of eight hours or more, according to the filings. Then they would be rotated another cell or back to the open area.
The new filings were made to support the contention by the ACLU and Legal Aid that the Sheriff's Department should be required to pay damages for the repeated violations of the court order.
The Sheriff Department's top staff were aware of the violations, but did nothing to end them until the county admitted in court -- after months of denials -- that they occurred, according to the filings.
The brief and the attached affidavits by inmates detail deplorable conditions in the booking area.
One inmate, who is HIV-positive, said he was denied his arthritis medication.
"I was forced to sit on hard benches, and I was not allowed to stand or lie down...Cells on the side of the main booking room were supposed to let us lie down and sleep, but the rooms were really tiny and had up to 15 people crammed in them. There wasn't enough room for everyone to lie down, so I stood or leaned against the wall most of the time that I was in the cell. I did not lie down on the floor because it was very dirty."
Another inmate said "It was difficult to sleep because of the crowding, the smells, the cold and the fact that the lights were on at all times. The cells were also infested with bugs that looked like little, white centipedes."
Deputy Inspector Jerianne Feiten, in charge of the jail from fall 2002 through early 2004, testified that if inmates -- some of whom were held for more than 100 hours -- slept on the floor, that was their "choice."
The toilet in the holding cell was separated from the rest of the room only by a partition that reached neither the floor nor the ceiling, according to the filings. The sink was connected to the toilet.
"The floor was wet with water and saliva from people spitting and spilling while trying to drink and from urine that sprayed outside the toilet," the inmate said. "The toilet itself was disgusting. There was a time when an inmate threw up into the toilet, but some of the vomit missed the toilet. The smell was terrible."
Several inmates said the food was inedible. Bologna or salami sandwiches were served three times a day.
"To me they looked like something out of a dumpster and the meat looked green," an inmate said. Some detainees used the sandwiches as make-shift pillows.
"Once, when I tried to flush the toilet, the handle was so dirty that my hand actually slipped off of it."
A 21-year old woman who was 13 weeks pregnant when she was in the jail said a holding cell was cleaned with hard chemicals that made her feel sick. "A guard told me that an inmate who had recently been in that cell had a contagious disease, but nobody would tell me what disease or whether I should be tested for anything," she said.
The toilets were filthy and "there was no soap availble to wash our hands, and I could only rinse them in water," she said. "Once, when I tried to flush the toilet, the handle was so dirty that my hand actually slipped off of it."
"The lack of hygiene contributed to the horrible conditions in the booking area," another woman said. "We had no toilet paper when we had to go to the bathroom....Our cell was cleaned only once during the three days, and one roll of toilet paper was left in our cell (for 13 or 14 women). That was the only time we had any toilet paper."
"Two women in my holding cell had their menstrual periods, but they could not get any tampons or sanitary pads," she said. "They had blood showing through their pants, and they left spots of blood on the ground when they sat down.
The county has 30 days to explain to Circuit Judge Clare Fiorenza why Sheriff David Clarke's department should not have to pay damages.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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