MILWAUKEE -- Gov. Scott Walker says he'll announce his pick for Milwaukee County sheriff by week's end and is signaling support for Acting Sheriff Richard Schmidt.
Walker stopped short of choosing Schmidt while talking with reporters Tuesday in Milwaukee. But the governor said jail deaths and criminal charges against three former jail staffers were "pretty clearly disconnected" from the acting sheriff, who has said he expects to remain in the job through the end of 2018 when an election is held.
A 40-page Milwaukee County Jail report released last week detailed excessive overtime that resulted in huge costs for the county and high turnover among jail staff, among other issues. Seven people died in the jail between 2016 and 2017, including one inmate who died of dehydration. Walker said the report did not tie those problems to Schmidt.
"I think it was good news from what came out of the independent report," Walker said.
Schmidt said last week he hasn't gotten an official endorsement from anyone in Madison but that he didn't anticipate being removed from the job he inherited when former Sheriff David Clarke resigned in late August 2017.
"This is the best answer I can give you: I fully anticipate being here through the end of 2018," Schmidt told reporters after a tour of the jail last week.
Schmidt said he was still deciding whether to launch a campaign to run for a full term in November. He said he'd make his decision "in the next two to three weeks."
Schmidt said he has overhauled leadership at the jail since taking over for Clarke. Without mentioning the ex-sheriff's name, Schmidt has called it "ridiculous" that Clarke repeatedly ran multi-million dollar budget deficits at the Sheriff's Office.
Clarke took issue with Schmidt's comments and called into conservative radio host Dan O'Donnell's show on WISN 1130/AM to complain Monday.
"I don't like when he takes political cheap shots now that I'm gone to enhance his own image," Clarke said.
Clarke said that Schmidt was in charge of the jail and should have brought issues to his attention. The acting sheriff called in while Clarke was still on the air and said Clarke refused to listen when he asked multiple times to have a jail official removed.
On Tuesday, Walker defended Schmidt while referencing the newly-released report.
"We were interested in what would be said there," Walker said. "We were interested well before that as to any criminal charges at the jail, and I think those were all pretty clearly disconnected from the acting sheriff."
Three ex-jail staffers, including former jail commander Nancy Evans, have been charged in connection to the inmate dehydration death.
County Executive Chris Abele said he was happy to work with whomever Walker appoints, and praised Schmidt specifically.
"I’ve had a strong working relationship with Richard Schmidt during his time as acting sheriff and appreciate his personal investment in making Milwaukee County a safe and fair place for all our residents," Abele said in an email.
Late last year, Walker said he expected to make his appointment by the end of 2017. The delay led to speculation that he would simply leave Schmidt as acting sheriff until the November election, because the August primary is now just four months away.
Former Milwaukee Police Capt. Earnell Lucas, a Democrat, is running for a four-year term. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert has said he plans to run.