Tag Archives: milwaukee

Why did Terrill Thomas die of thirst?

Nobody decided to kill Terrill Thomas.  He kept flooding his cell at the Milwaukee County Jail and making a mess so they just turned off the water to his cell.  Then they left it off until he was dead.  It took six days.  Fellow inmates say he was calling out for water.  Corrections officers say they checked in on Thomas every half hour, and “he had made some type of noise or movement” every time.  Until the last time, when he didn’t make any type of noise or movement because he’d died of thirst.

How did this happen?  It didn’t happen because David Clarke — the sheriff of Milwaukee County, and a top candidate to lead the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration — wanted to kill a prisoner in the most agonizing way imaginable.  What kind of psycho would want that?  I don’t think Sheriff Clarke wanted to kill a newborn baby either.  The baby was the fourth person to die in the jail since April.

These people died because nobody really seems to care what happens in the Milwaukee County Jail.  The medical services there are run by Armor Correctional Health Services, a company which oversees healthcare for 40,000 inmates in 8 states.  What are you saying about your priorities if you call your health care company “Armor”?

Armor’s glassdoor page doesn’t make it sound like a great place to work.  One employee writes:   “Stop being bean counters and start listening to your employees. We are asked to do too much: too many patients, too many intakes, not nearly enough staff to be in compliance with your own rules!”  Armor was sued by the state of New York this year over 12 inmates who died in the Nassau County Jail, including Daniel Pantera, who died of hypothermia in solitary confinement; they settled the suit last month for $350,000 and are barred for three years from bidding for contracts in the state.  Armor does get a very nice endorsement, though, from Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who says right on the front of their website, “Armor stands out as an exemplary model of what partnership in correctional health should look like.”  Bradshaw’s department was held liable this year for $22.4m in damages to Dontrell Stephens, and this summer settled for $550,000 against a former U.S. Marshall who said he was roughed up by deputies after stopping to help the victims of a traffic accident.

Here in Wisconsin, Armor’s performance is overseen by Ronald Shansky, a court-appointed monitor and the first president of the Society of Correctional Physicians.  Some of what Shansky has to say, based on his visit to Milwaukee County correctional facilities last month:

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As for the deaths:

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Shansky also, I should say, has a lot of praise for some staff members at the jail, characterizing them as devoted to their jobs and patients and doing the best they can under strained circumstances.  And I believe that’s true.  Again:  the doctors of Armor didn’t want Terrill Thomas to spend six days dying of thirst.  Neither did the CEO of Armor.  Neither did David Clarke.  But it happened.  And everyone participated in creating the circumstances under which it happened, and under which it’s likely to happen again:  public services outsourced to companies without the staff or resources to do the job right.

It starts with jails.  But it goes on to schools, to parking, to Medicare, to policing, to the maintenance of our bridges and roads.  You’ll hear people say those services should be run like businesses.  We can see in Milwaukee County what that looks like.  Does it look good?

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Such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin

I’ve lived in Wisconsin for more than a decade and had never heard of Joshua Glover.  That’s not as it should be!

Glover was a slave who escaped Missouri in 1852 and settled in Racine, a free man.  He found a job and settled down into a new life.  Two years later, his old master found out where he was, and, licensed by the Fugitive Slave Act, came north to claim his property.  The U.S. marshals seized Glover and locked him in the Milwaukee courthouse. (Cathedral Square Park is where that courthouse stood.)   A Wisconsin court issued a writ holding the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional, and demanding that Glover be given a trial, but the federal officers refused to comply.  So Sherman Booth, an abolitionist newspaperman from Waukesha, gathered a mob and broke Glover out.  Eventually he made it to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Booth spent years tangled in court, thanks to his role in the prison break.  Wisconsin, thrilled by its defiance of the hated law, bloomed with abolitionist fervency.  Judge Abram Daniel Smith declared that Wisconsin, a sovereign state, would never accept federal interference within its borders:

“They will never consent that a slave-owner, his agent, or an officer of the United States, armed with process to arrest a fugitive from service, is clothed with entire immunity from state authority; to commit whatever crime or outrage against the laws of the state; that their own high prerogative writ of habeas corpus shall be annulled, their authority defied, their officers resisted, the process of their own courts contemned, their territory invaded by federal force, the houses of their citizens searched, the sanctuary or their homes invaded, their streets and public places made the scenes of tumultuous and armed violence, and state sovereignty succumb–paralyzed and aghast–before the process of an officer unknown to the constitution and irresponsible to its sanctions. At least, such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin, without meeting as stern remonstrance and resistance as I may be able to interpose, so long as her people impose upon me the duty of guarding their rights and liberties, and maintaining the dignity and sovereignty of their state.”

The sentiment, of course, was not so different from that the Southern states would use a few years later to justify their right to buy and sell human beings.  By the end of the 1850s, Wisconsin’s governor Alexander Randall would threaten to secede from the Union should slavery not be abolished.

When Booth was arrested by federal marshals in 1860, state assemblyman Benjamin Hunkins of New Berlin went even further, introducing a bill declaring war on the United States in protest.  The speaker of the assembly declared the bill unconstitutional and no vote was taken.  (This was actually the second time Hunkins tried to declare war on the federal government; as a member of the Wisconsin territorial assembly in 1844, he became so outraged over the awarding of the Upper Peninsula to Michigan that he introduced an amendment declaring war on Great Britain, Illinois, Michigan, and the United States!)

Milwaukee has both a Booth Street and a Glover Avenue; and they cross.

Madison has a Randall Street (and a Randall School, and Camp Randall Stadium) but no Glover Street and no Booth Street.  Should it?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court gets home rule wrong and right

The Supreme Court made a decision in the Milwaukee police officer residency requirement case I wrote about, peevishly and at length, earlier this year.  Chief Justice Michael Gableman is still claiming the home rule amendment says something it doesn’t say; whether he’s confused or cynical I can’t say.

the home rule amendment gives cities and villages the ability “to determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village.”  In other words, a city or village may, under its home rule authority, create a law that deals with its local affairs, but the Legislature has the power to statutorily override the city’s or village’s law if the state statute touches upon a matter of statewide concern or if the state statute uniformly affects every city or village. See Madison
Teachers, 358 Wis. 2d 1, ¶101.

“In other words,” phooey.  The amendment says a state enactment has to be of statewide concern and uniform in its effect.  Gableman turns the “and” into an “or,” giving the state much greater leeway to bend cities to its will.  The citation, by the way, is to his own opinion in the Act 10 case, where he’s wrong for the same reason.

But here’s the good news.  Rebecca Bradley, the newest justice, wrote a blistering concurrence (scroll to paragraph 52 of the opinion) which gets the amendment right.  She agrees with the majority that the state has constitutional authority to block Milwaukee’s residency requirement.  But the majority’s means of reaching that conclusion is wrong.  Bradley explains: by the home rule amendment’s plain text and by what its drafters said at the time of its composition, it is and, not or; for a state law to override a city law, it has to involve a matter of statewide concern and apply uniformly to all muncipalities.  Here’s Daniel Hoan, mayor of Milwaukee, and one of the main authors of the home rule amendment:

We submit that this wording is not ambiguous as other constitutional Home Rule amendments may be. It does not say——subject to state laws, subject to state laws of state-wide concern, or subject to laws uniformly affecting cities, but it does say——subject only to such state laws as are therein defined, and these laws must meet two tests: First——do they involve a subject of statewide concern, and second——do they with uniformity affect every city or village?

Bradley concedes that decades of Supreme Court precedent interpret the amendment wrongly.  So screw the precedent, she writes!  OK, she doesn’t actually write that.  But words to that effect.

I know I crap on Scalia-style originalism a lot, partly because I think it’s often a put-on.  But this is the real thing.

 

 

 

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Brewers report

CJ and I took in a couple of Brewers games last weekend, both victories over the Pirates.  Perhaps the greatest pleasure was seeing Carlos Gomez do something that’s only been done a few dozen times in baseball history; after walking to lead off the bottom of the third, he stole second, then, with the pitcher up, stole third.  And then he broke for home.  A.J. Burnett uncorked a panic pitch that got away from Pittsburgh’s catcher and Gomez scored without a play.  He had stolen his way around the entire basepath!

Except he hadn’t.  Ordinarily, you’re credited with a steal of home if you’re off before the pitch; but official scorer Tim O’Driscoll ruled that the Brewers had been attempting a suicide squeeze, which means the play is scored as a wild pitch, not a stolen base.

Still, I know what I saw; an exhibition of brazenly aggressive baserunning, the likes of which I have not seen since college, when Tom Scocca used to run on me that way in Atari baseball, because it was really hard to make accurate throws in that game, and because all mercy and human feeling drained out of Scocca when he played Atari baseball.

More Brewers impressions:

  • About 60% of jerseys at a Brewers game are Ryan Braun jerseys.  Judging from the cheers he got, I’m pretty sure nobody in Milwaukee cares whether Braun used or is using PEDs.
  • The scoreboard at Miller Park displays OPS!  Very forward-looking.  On the other hand, there’s no out-of-town scoreboard on the outfield wall, which to me seems an unforgivable omission.
  • Once a year or so I think “hey, burger and brat on the same bun, that sounds like a pretty great sandwich,” and I order one.  Burger and brat on the same bun is not actually a great sandwich, but merely a meaty confusion.
  • American Science and Surplus is only about 10 minutes from Miller Park and is one of the most amazing stores I’ve ever seen.  You can buy typewriters there, or teflon hexagons in bulk, or sunglasses with hidden mirrors in the lenses so you can see behind you, or full-color posters depicting all the kinds of ulcers.  You can buy a 5-foot-long whisk for only 18 bucks.  Why didn’t I?
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Sat. Nite Duets on CNN

Some criticized me a few months back for posting about obscuro Milwaukee slack-pop heroes Sat. Nite Duets, but now here they are, interviewed on CNN — and you heard them here first!

Here’s “Peel Away”:

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The Orioles’ first visit to Miller Park, and ours

The Orioles came to Milwaukee this weekend to play the Brewers, their first visit here since the Brewers switched leagues, and — if I understand the interleague schedule correctly — their last until 2014. So it was time for CJ to attend his first ballgame. I didn’t expect him to make it through the whole game, but he did — partly because both pitchers worked fast and the game only lasted two and a half hours, partly because I bought a tub of popcorn at the 7th inning stretch which held most of CJ’s attention during the late going.

Not that there was much to watch; the Orioles lost, 3-2, but it never seemed that close. Apart from the two-run pinch-hit homer from Oscar Salazar, the Orioles never seemed to catch up with Milwaukee pitching. When you see a lineup that ends with a Murderee’s Row like Ramon Hernandez, Adam Jones, Freddie Bynum, and Daniel Cabrera, you rest your head in your hands and wonder how we ever score at all.

Cabrera was lousy on the mound, too — in trouble and behind in the count all game long, and lucky to get out of it allowing just three runs. He managed only one 1-2-3 inning out of the six he pitched. I had the impression that Cabrera was the kind of pitcher who was either dominatingly brilliant or wild with flashes of dominating brilliance — but in fact, Cabrera on a bad day looks like any other mediocre pitcher.

CJ didn’t really follow the game, though he clapped when he saw other people clapping (in other words, at the wrong times). His favorite part of the trip was when the retractable roof opened. His second favorite part was the Sausage Race. His third favorite part was a tie between the aforementioned tub of popcorn and a corn dog.

A little more Daniel Cabrera:

  • In person you get a sense of how weirdly tall and big he’s built — not really a superathlete tall and big, more of a hyperpituitary tall and big.
  • This is especially evident when you watch his ungainly attempts to hit. Cabrera has 11 at-bats in his career, and has struck out every time. Is this a record?

Addendum: Almost forgot to record the strange dream I had after coming back from the game.  Because of the construction on I-94, Brewers officials stopped my car on the way out of the park and asked if I could drive Melvin Mora and Cabrera back to their hotel.  Cabrera got in the back next to CJ and was clearly pretty cramped, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking Mora to get out so they could switch.  Amateur psychoanalysts, get to work!

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