MILWAUKEE -- An attorney for Dan Black, a man detained at the airport in January after Black shook his head at Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke on a Milwaukee-bound airplane has filed suit against Sheriff Clarke.
In announcing the lawsuit Thursday, February 2nd, Attorney William Sulton issued this statement:
"Today, I filed a lawsuit against Sheriff David Clarke to hold him accountable for unlawfully stopping and arresting Dan Black. A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Black filed a complaint with Milwaukee County. It was Mr. Black’s hope that the county would investigate the matter and impose appropriate corrective measures. Sheriff Clarke, however, responded to the complaint by threatening Mr. Black with violence and encouraging others to follow suit. Sheriff Clarke also refused to cooperate with the investigation and ordered his subordinates to do the same. It is clear that only the courts can rein in Sheriff Clarke.
This was a gross and arbitrary abuse of power. Civil and constitutional rights are vain unless they are protected and defended. That is exactly what this lawsuit will accomplish."
The lawsuit lists Daniel Black as the plaintiff, and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, Milwaukee County, and six "John Does" -- Milwaukee County deputy sheriffs as defendants.
The suit seeks an award of money damages "for the unlawful stop and arrest of Black," the documents state.
The lawsuit says on January 15th, Dan Black was at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas, where he boarded a flight headed to Milwaukee. While boarding, Black saw a man that looked like Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, wearing Dallas Cowboys gear. Black asked the man if he was Sheriff Clarke, and Clarke responded that he was. Black then moved towards the rear of the plane and shook his head. Sheriff Clarke then asked Black if he had a problem. Black shook his head no, and took a seat in the rear of the plane. The suit says there was no interaction between Black and Clarke during the flight.
When they landed in Milwaukee, the lawsuit says Clarke was in the waiting area by the gate, and he motioned to the six deputy sheriffs, who walked over to Black and stopped him. The lawsuit says two of the deputy sheriffs arrested Black, and he was escorted to an unoccupied waiting area, where he was "interrogated, and questioned about his political opinions for about 15 minutes" before he was escorted out of the airport.
The lawsuit says: "A reasonable Milwaukee County sheriff wouldn't have ordered his deputy sheriffs to stop, arrest and interrogate a citizen for shaking his head," and "a reasonable sheriff would know that his deputy sheriffs do not have jurisdiction over events that occurred in Texas."
It goes on to say: "A reasonable deputy sheriff would have refused Sheriff Clarke's unlawful order to stop, arrest and interrogate Black, knowing that it is unlawful," and "a reasonable deputy sheriff would have intervened and prevented the deputy sheriffs from arresting and interrogating Black.
The lawsuit says after Black filed a complaint with Milwaukee County, Sheriff Clarke threatened him on social media:
"He has refused to cooperate with the investigation. He ordered his subordinates to not cooperate in the investigation," said Sulton.
Sulton, Black's attorney, is seeking financial compensation of an undisclosed sum for emotional distress and the violation of Black's constitutional rights.
"Whatever occurred in Dallas, Texas, occurred in Dallas, Texas. There wasn't anything they could do about it in Milwaukee County," Sulton said.
Black also hopes to send a message to Clarke, and the county, about Clarke's alleged abuse of power.
"He clearly thinks he's a big tough guy. Thinks he can do what he wants. Has no one to answer to. Well, now he has to answer to the courts," said Black.
According to the lawsuit, Black has experienced racial and other threats in person and on social media as a result of Clarke's statements.
When asked for a response to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for Sheriff Clarke said: "We don't comment on pending litigation."
FOX6 News also reached out to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele for comment on the lawsuit. His spokeswoman said: "We take all complaints filed against the county very seriously, but can't comment any further on pending litigation."
Milwaukee County auditors launched an investigation into Black's complaint that Sheriff Clarke had deputies question him because he shook his head at Clarke on board the airplane.
Clarke called the investigation a “political witch hunt” and a “waste of time.”
The lawsuit says Clarke has publicly stated he will not cooperate with Milwaukee County's investigation and he has ordered his deputes not to cooperate. According to the suit, Clarke has said Milwaukee County has no authority to investigate him or enforce any sanction against him.
24-year-old Black filed the complaint which launched this investigation with Milwaukee County, accusing Sheriff Clarke of abusing his power. Sulton, Black's attorney, confirmed that a county auditor spoke with his client about the case.
County Executive Chris Abele said he referred Black’s complaint to the county Audit Services Division on January 25th.
“Somewhere along the line in Milwaukee, we’ve forgotten that we deserve better,” Abele told reporters in his office Wednesday. “Well, we do deserve better. And I’m hoping that now is a time that we’re all starting to realize that.”
The sheriff responded to the county investigation by blaming Abele, calling him a "little man" who opposed President Donald Trump, whom Clarke supported in the 2016 election.
“The latest political stunt by County executive Abele is a waste of time,” Clarke wrote on the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. “He does not have the authority to investigate the Sheriff’s Office, and the sheriff is making it very clear that personnel responsible to him will not be talked to by anybody from the county executive’s office.”
The Audit Services Division is within the county comptroller’s office, not the county executive’s office.
Abele said the auditors only had the power to investigate the complaint, not to enforce action against Clarke. Instead, he called on voters to remove Clarke from office.
"No secret, I’ve supported people against him (in elections)," Abele said. "And not because it’s a Republican or Democrat or personality thing, it’s because I love this county and I know we can do better."
Gov. Scott Walker, who is allowed by Wisconsin law to remove Clarke from office, has said he would not do so unless Clarke breaks the law. Abele said he believes there's "an argument to be made for the governor to remove him."
Clarke, through a spokeswoman, refused FOX6's interview request after the investigation was launched.
"I wouldn’t do an interview with you or anybody at FOX6 if my life depended on it. I find you people to be rude, unprofessional, and purveyors of fake news," Clarke wrote.
Meantime, a notice of claim has been filed related to one of the four deaths last year at the Milwaukee County Jail. The claim comes from the family of Michael Madden. He died while in custody last October.
Madden's family is seeking monetary damages for alleged neglect contributing to his death -- and the release of his autopsy reports. A notice of claim is typically the first step towards a lawsuit.
Three people died at the Milwaukee County Jail in 2016: Terril Thomas, Kristina Fiebrink and Madden -- plus, Shade Swayzer's newborn baby. Swayzer has filed a federal suit against the sheriff's office.