Civil Grand Jury accuses Santa Clara County sheriff of corrupt misconduct
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks to media outside the county administrative building in San Jose on May 26, 2021. File photo.

A Civil Grand Jury has formally accused Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith of granting concealed weapon licenses to donors and political supporters and lying about accepting gifts.

The accusation filed Tuesday claims Smith committed willful and corrupt misconduct by making it a practice to grant licenses to carry concealed firearms to people based on whether individuals were donors to her political campaign, members of the Sheriff’s Advisory Board nonprofit, or had a personal connection to Smith.

A hearing for the accusation is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Civil grand juries file accusations against public officials for willful corrupt misconduct. Accusations, which are filed infrequently, can be taken to trial by district attorneys.

The accusation, filed in superior court, claims the concealed weapons license misconduct occurred between Dec. 16, 2015 and Nov. 30, 2021. It states that Smith abused various sections of the Penal Code by failing to properly investigate license applications and provide timely notice to applicants about whether their licenses had been approved or denied.

The Civil Grand Jury also accuses Smith of accepting an unlawful gift in early 2019. It claims she accepted the use of a suite at the SAP Center for a Feb. 14, 2019 San Jose Sharks hockey game from insurance broker Harpreet Chadha. The gift allegedly included suite tickets, food and beverages worth more than $500. Smith allegedly committed a crime by failing to report this gift on her annual statement of economic interests in 2020. She also has been accused of perjury for allegedly lying on this form.

The filing also alleges Smith failed to cooperate with the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring relating to the Sheriff’s Office’s internal affairs investigation of an incident in 2018 where a mentally ill inmate named Andrew Hogan suffered a head injury while being transported for psychiatric services.

The accusation contains a witness list with 65 names.

Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A source in the jail told San José Spotlight that morale among staff is at an all-time low.

In August, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors issued a referral demanding outside investigations of Smith’s oversight of the county jail system. They cited several incidents in recent years where mentally ill inmates suffered serious injuries in custody. The county paid hefty settlements in several cases, including $10 million to Hogan. It also gave $3.6 million as a settlement to the family of Michael Tyree, who was murdered by jail officers in 2015.

In a previous interview with San José Spotlight, the sheriff said she supports the investigations and blamed county leaders for understaffing in jails and a failure to address budget shortfalls.

The board sought investigations of the jail system by a civil grand jury, the U.S Department of Justice and the California Attorney General.

Smith, who became sheriff in 1998, faces re-election in 2022 and has three challengers: Sergeant Sean Allen, Sergeant Christine Nagaye and retired captain Kevin Jensen. Smith has not yet confirmed she is running for re-election or launched a campaign.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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