San Jose mayor calls for sheriff to resign
Mayor Sam Liccardo calls for the resignation of Sheriff Laurie Smith at a news conference on Aug. 16. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith is firing back after San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called for her resignation Monday, citing severe problems in her management of the county jail.

Smith told San José Spotlight exclusively that she won’t make any decisions on resigning.

“When the investigations are complete and I hope they are done quickly, then decisions can be made,” the sheriff said in an interview Monday. “I support transparency and that’s why we need an in-depth review by investigating agencies.”

The mayor’s calls for the sheriff to resign come just days after two members of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors demanded an investigation of Smith and her office related to deaths and injuries that have occurred at the jail.

Supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee are calling for the County Counsel to publicly release a report and audio related to Andrew Hogan, an inmate who suffered a massive head injury in 2018. Hogan, who was experiencing a mental health crisis, injured himself by repeatedly banging his head against a jail van while being transported from Elmwood Correctional Facility to the main jail. After falling unconscious, he was left unattended for a period of time after the van arrived at the jail.

“As a former deputy DA in this county, my experience with Sheriff Smith’s poor leadership of her department convinced me years ago to repeatedly decline to endorse her re-election,” Liccardo said at a news conference Monday. “Sheriff Smith’s repeated mismanagement of the jail, particularly as evidenced in recent years, has destroyed lives and violated the most basic civil rights.”

Smith said she welcomes the probe into the sheriff’s office.

“I’m encouraging these investigations because I want the truth and an accurate depiction of the progress we’ve made,” she added. “In fairness to the men and women who work here and the progress we’ve made, that’s why I support the investigations.”

Smith’s 23 years in office have been marked by significant problems in the county jail, including repeated beatings of inmates; repeated concealment of facts relating to those cases; tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on settlements; two consent decrees to improve jail conditions that cost $450 million; a bribery criminal investigation that has resulted in indictments of Smith’s top aides and a campaign fundraiser; and a pay-to-play scandal involving $300,000 in union contributions for Smith’s 2018 re-election.

Santa Clara County settled last year with Hogan’s family for more than $10 million, according to county documents. Simitian and Lee said they were unaware of any disciplinary actions against the officer who transported Hogan, and they raised concerns about the watch commander, who received a promotion and pay raise shortly after the incident.

The supervisors are also concerned about two other incidents at the jail. In August 2019, an inmate named Martin Nunez damaged his spine after running head-first into his cell door. Nunez sued the city, claiming that officers left him in his cell and then moved him roughly, worsening his injuries. In August 2015, three correctional officers beat to death a mentally ill man named Michael Tyree. The county paid $3.6 million to Tyree’s family and the officers were convicted of murder.

“Santa Clara County taxpayers—the majority of whom reside in my city of San Jose—have footed the bill for eight-figure payouts on civil lawsuits and $450 million in improvements to jail operations mandated by consent decrees responding to severe failures in Sheriff Smith’s management of the jail,” Liccardo said.

Following Tyree’s murder, the county created the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, an independent monitor of law enforcement agencies in Santa Clara County. Last year, Smith refused to sign an agreement giving the monitor access to personnel records for deputies and information on investigations.

The supervisors are asking the state attorney general to investigate whether there was a pattern of unconstitutional conduct or civil rights violations in the jail. They’re also seeking an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission and a civil grand jury.

The board will discuss the recommendations during a meeting this Tuesday.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter. Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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