Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith is stepping down as the top law enforcement officer as her trial for corruption charges comes to a close.
Undersheriff Ken Binder will replace Smith as acting sheriff until the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors chooses one, or until a new one is elected, according to a Monday Twitter post by the sheriff’s office. Voters will choose between former Palo Alto Police Chief Robert “Bob” Jonsen and Kevin Jensen, a retired county sheriff captain, to become the beleaguered sheriff’s successor next week.
Ryan Elder, president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association said, “We support Sheriff Smith retiring from the Sheriff’s Office and look forward to turning the page and moving our department forward. We acknowledge her decades of service, and we certainly hope new leadership will restore some of the confidence in our department that has been tarnished throughout this sordid episode.”
Smith was not immediately available for comment.
“It was important for her to retire on her own terms,” said Rich Robinson, Smith’s former attorney and a San José Spotlight columnist who spoke on the former sheriff’s behalf. “This is a chance for the county to go on with its business, and now she can put this behind her.”
Smith announced in March she would not seek reelection amid a saga of scrutiny involving an alleged pay-to-play scheme. A grand jury announced formal corruption charges against Smith in December, and her trial began in September after she was accused of doling out concealed carry permits to people who supported her last reelection campaign.
Several county supervisors reacted to Smith’s departure.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said, “Sheriff Smith vacating her position allows a new sheriff to begin working with the community to make the changes we need right away.”
Supervisor Susan Ellenberg acknowledged Smith’s decision to retire before the end of the year.
“I have long been focused on the future and look forward to working with the newly elected Sheriff to ensure that this critical office is run transparently, with integrity, and through a culture that promotes dignity for every individual who comes into contact with any of the Sheriff’s Office’s services,” she said.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called for Smith’s resignation in August 2021 after the corruption accusations came to light.
“More than a year ago, I publicly called for Sheriff Laurie Smith to resign, and she has belatedly heeded that call,” Liccardo said in a statement Monday. “It remains for the county to rebuild a troubled department and to better address many long-neglected issues, particularly regarding jail oversight. The city of San Jose stands ready to help.”
The trial followed another controversy in which Smith was the centerpiece: a monthslong inquiry by the board of supervisors sparked by a spate of injuries at county jails, including the high-profile injury of Andrew Hogan.
Hogan suffered significant brain trauma in August 2018 after repeatedly slamming his head into the side of a jail transport van. The county settled with Hogan and his family for more than $10 million last year, and the board unanimously voted no confidence in Smith’s leadership.
A recent report by Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring found that the sheriff’s office had failed at nearly every level when handling and later investigating the Hogan incident.
The California attorney general also opened an investigation into the jailhouse injuries, and the board of supervisors requested that the Fair Political Practices Commission investigate her.
“She could’ve (retired) earlier, but that would’ve taken the trial off the table and the implication would’ve been that she’s doing this under a cloud,” Robinson said.