Sheriff Smith Continues Damage Control as Jail Scandals Stack Up

Sheriff Laurie Smith has performed one delicate dance of damage control, as we learn just how terrible Santa Clara County’s jails have become. Inmates are dying, jail guards are breaking laws and sending racist texts, and worse, some may even be raping the men and women behind bars.

First, a brief history:

There have been 374 use of force complaints made by jail inmates since 2010, yet only four have been sustained.

In September, three guards at the county’s Main Jail, which is overseen by the Sheriff’s Office, were charged with murder after the fatal beating of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree. An unusually forthright press conference was held to announce the charges—even the medical examiner was trotted out to provide public comments.

In October, two more guards were arrested—deputy Ryan Saunders for accessing confidential records; deputy Mark Navarrete for workers comp fraud—and others have been suspended in unrelated matters.

The Sheriff’s Office, District’s Attorney’s Office and FBI are conducting their own investigations into the jails, and there are two independent inquiries being conducted: a blue-ribbon committee led by former judge LaDoris Cordell and a probe by Sabot Consulting, the latter of which appears to be more focused on the county’s liability concerns.

In an effort to control the message, county executive Jeff Smith hired crisis management consultants Tom Saggau and Dustin Derollo to advise the Sheriff’s Office. On Wednesday, Sheriff Smith held a press conference to announce new protocols to prevent abuse in county jails.

On Thursday, that message of accountability was trounced by yet another scandal.

Mercury News reporters Tracey Kaplan Robert Salonga wrote a damning report that noted “at least a dozen” correction officers have routinely shared racist text messages about the people they’re paid to monitor.

The messages reported by the Merc include:

  • “Think of all the lamp shades we can make from that k--e's hide. I mean there is always a bright side to everything.”
  • “I know you are on vacation, going to be more f----- up than a n-----'s checkbook by 4 p.m.”
  • “Cops have already killed 550 people in 2015.” In response: “If they're black, it doesn't count”
  • “What do you say to a n----- in a suit? Will the defendant please rise”
  • “F--- n-----s.”

Lance Scimeca, president of the correctional officers union, reportedly sent the first text, which used a derogatory term for Jewish people. He was suspended prior to the report for unknown reasons, but he also allegedly sent texts that “include references to black people as ‘n------’ and ‘yard apes,’ and to Vietnamese as ‘g----.’”

Judge Cordell called the text messages “absolutely shocking,” Sheriff Smith called them “repugnant” and both said any county jail employees who sent such messages should be fired. As of Friday morning, four correction officers who allegedly sent racist texts had been placed on administrative leave. More could be suspended as the Sheriff’s Office is frantically reviewing phone records.

Scimeca wouldn’t comment on the content of the messages, according to the Merc, but an attorney whose firm represents the jail guards’ union slammed the Sheriff’s Office for leaking the text messages to the press. That accusation hasn’t been confirmed, but it seems entirely possible. Anyone who followed last year’s elections will remember Smith’s bitter re-election fight.

She and the unions that represent county law enforcement get along like peas and carrots, if peas were grenades and carrots were cutlasses.

Releasing racist text messages to the press would seem tricky from a PR perspective, but they were going to come out one way or another after deputy Saunders’ arrest. The messages were discovered when his phone was taken as evidence.

From the Sheriff Office’s perspective, it might as well get ahead of the story, as it was going to become public one way or another. Sheriff Smith released this written statement:

“The text messages read to me are repugnant and vile and they turn my stomach. Deputies alleged to have sent these text messages have been placed on leave so that they have no contact with inmates. If the ongoing independent investigation surrounding these disgusting text messages are found to be attributed to any member of the Sheriff’s Office, I will move to fire those individuals because they have no business in law enforcement, let alone civilized society. This is absolutely shameful. The residents of Santa Clara County deserve better.”

What was mentioned in the story, but only in passing, is that the county jails might have more criminals walking around on both sides of the bars. The Merc reported, “Some texts suggest that certain guards may have either coaxed or coerced inmates into giving them sexual favors, multiple sources familiar with the investigations said.”

If true, all we’re missing is drug smuggling to complete an Orange is the New Black episode. Smith has taken a tough public stance on the improper and illegal activities taking place in the county’s jails. But at a certain point, the rhetoric must give way to a look in the mirror.

The jails operate under the Sheriff’s Office watch, so who has been watching the watchers?

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

27 Comments

  1. Racism among the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office staff? Who’d a thunk? Where else in this area can you run your business like a fiefdom and have the power of life & death in your hands? Right. The county jail. Where else can you run your business like a concentration camp? Why yes. The county jail. What is it going to take for the county (i.e., the Sheriff’s Dept., the DA, et al) to take this seriously and clean house? I can’t answer that one.

  2. Good luck finding people who are capable of managing society’s vermin and yet immune from allowing personal experience to affect their thoughts, language, and humor. These guards spend a big part of their lives up close and personal with the scum the rest of us pay big money (in housing costs, private schools, shopping premiums, etc.) avoiding. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the physical distance away from the vermin factories (ghettos, barrios, trailer parks, etc.) and the price of real estate. Buy as much distance as has LaDoris Cordell and you’ll likely pay three to four times the price for a similar size chunk of residential dirt (but never have to worry about living next door to someone who’d stoop to working at a jail).

    As a taxpayer, I don’t care a whit about what jail guards text each other on their private phones, and were I an inmate, I’d sure as hell hope the guards were sharing a few laughs in order to alleviate the disheartening, frustrating, and often dangerous work they do. Laughter is nature’s stress reducer, and if you don’t think blacks are outperforming all other races in making themselves the butt of jokes then you must think Joneequa is a traditional French name, mumbling unintelligibly is an affectation, and gold grillz are a mark of sophistication. They have turned stupidity into an art form. Compared to blacks, making fun of Mexicans is a real challenge (which may explain the struggles of Hispanic comedians). How many times can you get a laugh out of “get off the car” or “I just barely came?” As for Jews, the only guards I’d expect to make fun of them work in the federal prisons that house criminals who rob not by force or fear, but by misplaced trust.

    If you count yourself among the many pantywaists who see in a few shared jokes the seeds of discrimination and brutality then you must believe that society’s guards, cops, firefighters, and fighting men either never joke about their bosses or do so and are all on the verge of lynching them. We have a choice here, we can get a grip and deal with human imperfection or we can allow society’s Chicken Littles to lead us right into the fox’s den.

    • Words of entitlement to live by. May you never experience the misplaced anger of someone who judges you by the color of your eyes.

      • Thank you for recognizing the discrimination those of us in the minority of the world’s population that were blessed and cursed with light eyes face at the hands of a very oppressive and biased brown eye majority.

  3. Josh… How do you expect 900 people who didn’t send or receive offensive text messages to know about the 1% of their coworkers who did? Also missing from the article is how many other professions are criminal free, including journalism.

  4. Fan,
    Your rhetoric ramblings, are unlike any thing, I have ever encountered. It must be quite lonely, inside your demented mind.
    It’s time to change the Coach. This is beginning to look like the tip of the Ice burg.
    I think now, of your message above, and the killing of inmates, as what recently occurred, and I want to vomit, with disgust.
    This system is completely broken, and it cannot be repaired any time soon.

    • Mr. Village B,

      I have used God’s name in vain many times but does that make me an atheist? If the “dreaded N-word” was used by Mark Fuhrman during the development of a screenplay 9 ½ years before the trial, does that make O.J. innocent?

      And what of this crime-against-humanity “N-word”? Just as some in the Old Testament used only the word “Yahweh” when referring to God because fearing Him, they dared not speak His name, then obviously since we hold that same reverence for “The Holy N-word” that we dare not write or speak it, how is it that we have not burned the Satanic works of such diabolical authors as Mark Twain (make a bonfire for “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”) so as not to vex the Great God of Political Correct Speech (words or phrases which are whatever Al Sharpton, Sheriff Smith and apparently you as well, Mr. Village B, define it as). Mark Twain wrote “The N Word” but he never owned a slave?

      If “actions speak louder than words”, then it follows that “words matter less than actions”. Why then should anyone give a rats-ass about what words, (undoubtedly borne of the frustration and rage at the on-going erosion of support and respect shown them by the political class) that some correctional officer(s) texted on his private phone?! As long as a person does not mistreat another person, who cares what the former thinks!?! It only matters what a person “does” and there is no evidence that any of the C.O.’s involved in the use of this (*gasp*) damnable, hellish, crimes-against-humanity language ever acted on any of those feelings or ever mistreated anyone based on any such real or imagined bias. Even if that were the case, should not that individual be disciplined appropriately for their actions rather than for the words they used, weeks, months or years before, while texting their friends?! (Wait! Oh my God! I’m wrong! O.J. was innocent! Damn you Fuhrman! I knew it!)

      If we are going to start sanctioning people for what they say (or think; that’s next) rather than for what they do, then I might as well start driving to jail to turn myself in the next time I see a picture of former mayor Fred Reed, mayor Liccardo, Sheriff Smith, or Ladoris Cordell! … or for that matter, my mother-in-law!!!

      Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, it’s been 10 seconds since my last frustrated word and angry thought…

  5. Tracy Corral,

    Your word use (“May you never”) is indicative of your own prejudgment, that being that someone holding the opinions I expressed has not himself been prejudged or experienced “misplaced anger.” You’ve have, by way of your own ignorance and/or brainwashing, been “entitled” to the delusion that only certain people suffer from the prejudices of others. I have no doubt this delusion comforts you, nor do I doubt that you will hold on to it no matter what facts may come your way, as believing it helps you avoid holding those you favor accountable for their failings (which are many).

    While there is no group that holds no prejudices, there are a few that are too smug and stupid to realize it.

  6. Village BS’er,

    How many thousands of inmates are booked into the county jail and how many of those are released alive and well every year? From the hysteria being generated by activists and the media (admittedly, a redundancy), and from the overwrought emotions of phonies like you and Laurie Smith (“I want to vomit”), I’m guessing the annual number of survivors at less than five.

    I’m not surprised that in responding to an email in which I addressed the content of text messages you deceitfully linked it to the “killing of inmates,” as I’ve grown quite accustomed to your knee-jerk distortions. Tell me, have the recent controversies at the jail led you to believe there exists a cause and effect relationship between racist humor and homicide? Because if they have, then based on the texting scandal alone, there’s got to be a dozen or so bodies stashed somewhere within the jail. Why don’t you and the sheriff get together and search for them? You can comfort each other, have a good cry together, and, when one of you is overcome by thoughts of mean-spirited humor and n-words, the other can hold the barf bucket.

    Meanwhile, I’ll just sit back and enjoy being a genuine human being.

    • Mr. Village BS,

      I much enjoy the silliness of your comments and wild assumptions. Although you probably wouldn’t know it to look at me, I have some Native American (Indian; Injun; or whatever you “palefaces” call it, or, since I’m mixed race, my personal favorite “Tomahonky”) in my ancestry. Yet, I doubt I’d be offended if some Correctional officer texted about which restaurant in town served the best “buffalo burger” nor would I be at all bothered if you were to yell “Geronimo” as you jumped off the roof of a 10-story building. (I’m sure this wouldn’t bother FINFAN either, as long as you didn’t land on his parked car). The point is, words without corresponding negative actions are meaningless; but anyone who wants to be offended can find a reason to be.

      When I filled out my first job application after graduating high school, I listed Native American as an ethnicity because I thought it would spark curiosity enough to increase my chance for an interview. I don’t know that it did but when I went in, the interviewer made mention of it, I explained my faint ethnic uniqueness and he said “Well, chief, if you want to learn to drive a forklift or work on the loading dock, you’re hired”. He said what some race-baiter attorney would have wet himself to hear but it didn’t stop him from hiring me. That’s the point. If he had instead been smarmy, mealy-mouthed me, and kissed my ass then turned around and told me that there were no job openings but that he would call me, and his actions were prompted by his bias, that would have been wrong. If the “pale face” who hired me had texted his wife (if there had been cell phones way back then) and said “Wow, you should have seen how fast Tonto loaded those 4 trailers today”, it wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest because we were a Union shop and I got the same pay raises as everyone else.

      I’m not saying that the way people talk doesn’t sometimes indicate something about the way they might think but as long as they don’t act negatively or unfairly on those biases, who cares what they say! If those C.O’s have no history of mistreating inmates, it is the bigotry of the Sheriff’s political-correctness, prompting her ridiculous over-reaction, that is the problem. The C.O.’s can (privately) say stupid things, as long as they don’t (officially) do stupid things.

      So, Mr. Village BS, can we just agree to disagree, sort of “bury the hatchet”, or “smoke the peace pipe”? Unbelievable.

  7. Village BS’er,

    Was it the air of decency you were breathing when you championed the cause of Hispanic illegals and complained about Indians holding work visas? Tell me, Mr. Pure-of-thought, what is it that makes you favor lawbreaking Hispanics over law-abiding Indians? Is it because Hispanics look like you and your relatives, or could it be the familiarity of their language, values, and customs? And what is it that makes you dislike Indians so much that you object to those who’ve jumped through the hoops so that they might work here legally? Are you hostile to them because their success and civility makes people you favor look bad?

    If you’d be so kind as to answer these questions you’d be doing a great public service, as everyone would love to become so politically correct in their prejudices that they attain, as have you, LaDoris Cordell, and Sheriff Smith, the right to consider themselves socially enlightened.

  8. Why do we care about text messages of any kind when they are not sent using government equipment or as part of official duties?

    How have so many people become so weak-minded and pusillanimous that they allow themselves to be affected by what others say (as opposed to what they do) whether or not those comments are directed at them, personally?

    Why is it that anyone can be a victim of ‘hate speech’ except, in order of exemption, police officers, white Christian males, males, or Christians?

    Why is ‘hate speech’ even something anyone concerns themselves with, and why do so many people find it necessary to appoint themselves arbiters of what is acceptable to be said?

    Why do so many people find it acceptable to police speech (and, by extension, though) when the Constitution explicitly exempts speech from the control of any person or entity unless that speech is capable of doing direct physical harm to another (the “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater principle)?

    Why is it that the most conspicuous form of bigotry in America right now is that which permits black activists and altogether too many in the black community to ONLY EVER care about the death of a black person if that person is killed by a police officer of any ‘color’ or by a ‘white’ person?

    Why is it that the most conspicuous form of bigotry in America is that which permits the aforementioned persons to blame slavery, etc. for the fact that black people are disproportionately represented not just in criminal convictions, but in victim identification of race, that black people are disproportionately represented in the commission of virtually every type of violent crime and drug crime, that black people utilize public assistance of virtually every type in vast disproportion to their population representation, and that they are vastly over represented among high school dropouts, teen pregnancy, single parent (and primarily fatherless) households, and in the use of abortion services?

    Why is it that when anyone who is not black points out these verifiable facts, they are called racists and bigots?

    Why is it that when a black person points out these verifiable facts, they are called ‘Uncle Toms’?

    Why is it that it seems that black activists and various members of that community put so much more effort into distributing blame primarily among law enforcement, the criminal justice system, white people and, yes (surprisingly often in my own personal experience) Jews and Hispanics and Asians for the ills that prevail within (particularly urban) black communities rather than making meaningful steps themselves, within their own communities to remedy these very real problems?

    Why??? Oh, never mind. I forgot. There’s too much money to be made by activists who perpetuate black victimhood. They’d lose income and relevance if the black community as a whole remedied these problems.

  9. I leave you patronizing Racist Hyenas, to Google and read the article about Mary Turner / Wekipedia.
    Why? Because I want you to live it as we do every day, being under the boot of the uniformed abusers. in our present community.

    • VBS, I asked some legitimate questions here. In order to have meaningful debate or discourse, your options are to:

      a. answer the questions using facts, statistics or educated opinion

      or

      b. refute the validity of the premises on which the questions are founded and do so with verifiable research and educated opinion

      You have done neither. Rather, you have employed an ad hominem attack and, while you are welcome to do so, this tactic reinforces that you don’t really have a legitimate place at this debate.

    • “patronizing Racist Hyenas”

      As my father Papa Weed used to say…”it takes one to know one.”

    • I read it. What is the nexus to this article or how Smith runs her department?

  10. The cherry-picked texts disclosed to media indirectly by LaDoris Cordell are important for a couple of reasons. (1) Although she is an attorney and a former Superior Court Judge, she violated every known requirement to protect evidence. That is, she tainted the evidence and defense attorneys were salivating at the possibilities of very expensive discovery about everything that occurs in her shop. Consider that she also went public earlier about a confidential investigation operating alongside her effort, as well. What a waste of money that could have gone to fixing the jail.

    (2) The cherry-picked texts were carefully sorted to provide caricatures of only four demographics which she characterized as quoted by the SJMN: “blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Jews.” She left out the diverse white Americans who provided the sacrificial victim (Tyree) to the three bullies who beat him to death, as well as all Christians, Muslims, Native Americans, and others. Tyree wasn’t even there as a criminal, he was just there for holding prior to transfer to a mental health center. Talk about a political agenda carrying her version of an investigation. Whatever she does, the investigation she heads has been rendered useless.

    • Dale, SJ cops had been railing against LaDoris for the duration of her tenure as IPA. Her bias was obvious from the outset and continued unabated during her employment as IPA. She is as bigoted as it is possible to be and hides behind her resume as a judge to manufacture credibility and conceal her duplicity.

  11. FERNANDO BALDERAS RODRIGUEZ — Now there’s an ethnic name… enough vowels and rolling R’s for three forged social security cards, and yet, not surprisingly, his comment contains neither substance nor punctuation. Perhaps his spray can ran out of paint.