UPDATE: Santa Clara County wants to know who quashed jail investigation
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks with other personnel at the Sheriff's Office in the aftermath of the May 26 shooting at a VTA light rail yard. Photo by Vicente Vera.

Santa Clara County officials have charged a law enforcement watchdog with finding answers to two questions: Who halted an internal affairs investigation into the injury of an inmate at the jail, and why.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Joe Simitian drilled the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring on the main objective of its investigation of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and its leader, Sheriff Laurie Smith.

“There’s a rather obvious pair of questions here, colleagues: who authorized the suppression of the internal affairs investigation and for what reason?” Simitian said. “Those are the two questions I think we need to get an answer to.”

Simitian was addressing a report recently produced by the independent monitor on circumstances surrounding the case of Andrew Hogan, a mentally ill inmate who suffered a severe head injury during transport between jail facilities in 2018.

The board threw its support behind Simitian’s referral from a month ago requesting investigations of the sheriff’s office by federal and state law enforcement over alleged mismanagement of the jail system. The board also recently also voted no confidence in the sheriff.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks at a news conference on Aug. 17. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

The sheriff’s office launched an internal affairs investigation of the circumstances surrounding the incident shortly after it happened. But the investigation was halted weeks later, said County Counsel James Williams.

Simitian strongly hinted he believes Smith is responsible for closing the internal affairs investigation, and that the motives were political. He said one of the individuals being investigated was an officer with a correctional officers association who helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Smith’s reelection campaign in November 2018.

“The election is completed in the first week of November, and in the first couple weeks of December, the internal affairs investigation is mysteriously called to a halt,” Simitian said. The item ended after Simitian was satisfied the investigators had clear direction on the scope of their inquiry.

Williams told Simitian the investigation could have been initiated and ended by Smith or someone she designated with that authority. But neither he nor Michael Gennaco, project manager of the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, could answer Simitian’s two most pressing questions.

Gennaco said in the thousands of investigations he’s performed in his 20-year career, it’s rare to see internal affairs investigations closed without findings.

“To close an investigation without a completion of the fact-gathering process and the review process in itself is highly irregular,” Gennaco said. He said he plans to subpoena the sheriff’s office for records of the internal investigation that are being withheld.

Smith, who did not appear at the meeting, previously told San José Spotlight that subpoenaing the information is the appropriate avenue for the monitor. But she was not without her defenders.

Brian Hedley, who works with Paula Canny, the attorney who represents the Hogan family, condemned the board’s actions.

“It is shameful to use the Hogan case as a sword against Sheriff Smith now, when for the past three years you would not give the Hogans or the issue of mass incarceration for mentally ill people the time of day,” Hedley said. “You are still engaged in Machiavellian machinations to attack the sheriff instead of really addressing the issue of the insanity of placing mentally ill people in jail instead of hospitals. You all should be ashamed—we are not fooled.”

The Hogan case plays a central role in the broad inquiry Simitian initiated last month into Smith’s office. Hogan received a $10 million settlement from the county for alleged negligence—a record for this kind of case, according to Williams.

“There certainly has not been a case of that size in my tenure,” Williams said. “I don’t believe there’s been one in that range for quite some time, if ever, in the county’s history.”

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said the lack of training doesn’t absolve the correctional officers who allegedly neglected Hogan. But she noted that blame rests on many shoulders.

“The Board of Supervisors is ultimately responsible for providing services and resources for people in our county who are struggling with a wide variety of issues,” Ellenberg said, adding the county needs to focus on ways to reduce the jail population and improve access to services for vulnerable inmates. “We must ensure that people who come into contact with the criminal legal system are not met with the horrific treatment with which Andrew Hogan was met.”

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

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