Santa Clara County sheriff faces state investigation over alleged civil rights violations
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks to media outside the county administrative building in San Jose on May 26, 2021. File photo.

The California attorney general is investigating possible civil rights violations committed by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.

Citing concerning allegations about the management of the jail system, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Wednesday his office is seeking information on whether the sheriff’s office engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct.

“These concerns have been repeatedly voiced by elected leaders, editorial boards, community members and more,” Bonta said in a statement. “Bottom line: Public institutions are subject to public oversight.”

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors requested an investigation by the state attorney general last August, citing multiple injuries and a death in the jail over the last few years. One case involves an inmate named Andrew Hogan, who suffered head injuries in 2018 while being transported for psychiatric care that resulted in a $10 million settlement.

“I have always welcomed any external review of the sheriff’s office and we will immediately open all records,” Sheriff Laurie Smith told San José Spotlight. “I have great confidence in the attorney general’s office and I believe they will provide the expertise for a fair and impartial investigation. We remain focused on our mission, which is to continue to provide the highest level of public safety services.”

Supervisors raised questions about Smith’s lack of cooperation with an independent police auditor investigating this incident. They also asked the Fair Political Practices Commission to examine possible connections between promotions and compensation and any incidents that occurred in the jails.

The board also requested a civil grand jury investigation of Smith’s actions. Last December, a civil grand jury issued an accusation against Smith that claims she committed corrupt misconduct by allegedly granting concealed carry firearm licenses to individuals based on whether they donated to her political campaign or had a personal connection to her. It also accuses her of accepting an unlawful gift and not reporting it.

Smith appeared at a hearing last week for the accusation, but did not enter a plea, with her attorneys pressing for more time to review the voluminous civil grand jury transcripts.

On top of the investigation and accusation, Smith is facing several challengers in the upcoming election for sheriff in June. Smith, who has held her post since 1998, has not indicated whether she intends to run for reelection.

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

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