Silicon Valley NAACP Calls for Resignation of Deputy Sheriffs’ Union President Don Morrissey

The Silicon Valley NAACP has called on the union representing Santa Clara County sheriff deputies to oust its leader for being involved with a group of officers who exchanged racist text messages.

In a letter released just before a scheduled Feb. 12 debate between Sheriff Laurie Smith and the five people running against her, NAACP chapter head Rev. Jethroe Moore accused Deputy Sheriffs’ Association President Don Morrissey of sending racist messages and defending others who sent disparaging remarks about black people and other minorities. Moore also urged the union release the texts, which number in the hundreds.

“It is outrageous that a man of such low character is allowed to lead a distinguished law enforcement union in this county,” wrote Moore, who supports Smith’s re-election. “Mr. Morrissey did not simply offend African Americans in his texts—in a sworn deposition he admitted to using the word ‘gooks’ to describe Asian Americans, as well. The depths of depravity this man has shown in his words and actions show clearly he not only doesn't belong at the head of a union, he belongs nowhere near a gun and a badge.”

Don Morrissey.

But according to the union—which is backing Smith’s chief opponent, former Undersheriff John Hirokawa—there’s no evidence that Morrissey texted a racist slur against Vietnamese people, as Moore claimed. Though the DSA president admitted that he responded to the bigoted message thread in 2015, he denied using any racist language. An independent review eventually cleared him of wrongdoing, the union noted.

“President Morrissey was investigated by an independent law firm, hired by the county, whose principal investigator was a former chief of police of Oakland PD and an African American,” DSA Vice President Roger Winslow wrote in a missive responding to Moore’s. “That investigator, who found others had sent racist text messages, was the same that exonerated Mr. Morrissey of that very issue. What is conveniently left out is that Mr. Morrissey spoke with multiple people warning them to stop their offensive behavior, after which he found himself the target of ridicule and bullying.”

Still, Morrissey was demoted from sergeant to deputy for failing to stop his colleagues from texting hateful remarks and pictures of swastikas and Ku Klux Klan members in peaked white hoods, according to the Mercury News.

Stepping down a rank came with a 15 percent pay cut and means Morrissey will have to retire with a smaller pension for failing to report misconduct. He’s appealing the demotion and expects the arbitrator’s decision any day now.

Meanwhile, Winslow is denouncing Moore’s letter as libelous and politically motivated. He’s also asking for a retraction.

The DSA sent Moore a cease-and-desist notice just hours before a candidate forum organized by the local NAACP chapter. Smith, who’s running for a sixth term, sat alongside against Hirokawa and her other challengers at Independence High School Monday night: Deputy Joseph LaJeunesse, Martin Monica, Joe Lopez and Jose Salcido.

Copies of an article about Morrissey’s pending arbitration were circulated among the audience while the sheriff, from the dais, emphasized that she has no tolerance for racism, misogyny or any hate crimes.

“For that reason, we’re taking a very, very firm stance on our deputies,” Smith said.

Hirokawa said that if he’s elected sheriff, he would conduct an evaluation of every rank to make sure people are being treated based upon merit instead of favoritism or retaliation.

“This really is a question about changing culture. It starts with leadership, training, hiring,” the retired undersheriff said. “Without the proper leadership that doesn’t show compassionate understanding and work ethic—that rules with fear—how does that resonate to the workforce?”

Smith defended her disciplinary practices.

“I’ve heard the word ‘fear’ used so many times,” she said. “I hold people accountable. … It’s the people who are not doing the right things every day that may have fear that they’re going to face some kind of discipline. Because I have no tolerance for misconduct at all, especially racist, misogynistic and especially the hate that sometimes we see.”

However, Smith said she believes that most of her officers are honorable.

“Those who do the job every day—and I think 99.9 percent of our organization is wonderful, they do the right thing every day and I’m proud to lead them—it’s the others that do not belong in law enforcement, should never have been hired to law enforcement, that really our changes are impacting right now,” she said. “And we will continue to make that progress and continue to do the right thing to make sure that we have a workforce that represents the community, and is sensitive to the needs.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the News Editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

5 Comments

  1. Moore pulled the same stunt on the MLK Board and SJPOA remember? https://www.sanjoseinside.com/2010/01/20/01_14_10_naacp_president_jethroe_moore_poa_nazis/. He also went public boycotting the Freedom Train, and later recanted doing it after more than 50 dues paying members of the NAACP boarded the Freedom Train telling the press that Moore was out of his mind for attacking the MLK Board and the SJPOA, and using the Freedom Train to do it.

    I guess the guy never learns to check out the facts before opening his mouth. He got in a lot of trouble for attacking the MLK Board and the SJPOA. I have a feeling he’ll get in trouble for pulling this stunt against the DSA’s President too because Moore does these kinds of things without Board, State, or National NAACP’s permission.

    Gee, I wonder why Moore did this? May be because he owes Smith something, or somethings? https://www.post.ca.gov/commissioners.aspx. He’s just too dumb to know when he’s being used as a stooge! If anyone needs to resign or be voted off any Board, it is Moore.

  2. Having been on a Board that was on the receiving end of one of the NAACP’s President Moore’s attacks, many years ago, I can really sympathize with what the DSA, and the DSA’s President Morrissey must be going through. These types of attacks can really harm an organization, and a person’s professional reputation. My hope is that SJI will offer the DSA an opportunity to respond with an OP Ed, or an article themselves, so that both sides of the story can be heard.

    On a personal note, I’ve known and worked the DSA, and Don for many years now. I can say that I just do not believe that these allegations about him are true, nor do I think that he should be attacked like this in the media. I just wish NAACP President Moore would reach out and fact check things before he runs to the media like he does. I’m certain that he would not want this done to him, if the situation were reversed.

    As far as these racist texts, and President Morrissey’s demotion are concerned, I’m very curious and concerned about how these things made their way to the media when, legally, they fall under confidential employee discipline laws. It has me wondering who leaked them to the press?

    On another note: I know for a fact that the DSA’s VP, Mr. Winslow, consented to, and sat on a panel, organized by the African American Community, and denounced these racist texts, and made it very clear that the DSA Board and Membership were outraged that they were sent. DSA VP Winslow has also continually taken every opportunity to address the concerns expressed by the community about law enforcement, something that I have never seen the Sheriff do. Also, the DSA has partnered with many groups to assist them in whatever they need, with the DSA’s President Morrissey in 100% support of his efforts to community bridge build.

    And finally, I am disheartened that every single time there’s been a Sheriff’s race, these kinds of unethical political attacks, leaked confidential items, and hit pieces end up in the media, deflecting from the real issues that are occurring in the Sheriff’s Office, and that we never get to focus on the qualifications of the candidates running.

  3. The best qualified person is the current Sheriff. I have seen her at the jails taking an interest in inmate welfare and safety.

    • ROBYN- If you think officers being beaten half to death and inmates dying under Smith’s watch makes her a good Sheriff, I have to wonder what you think would make a bad Sheriff.

  4. I would be curious to know if the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP has any explanations or concerns with the fact that the San Francisco African-American population declined from 13.4 percent in 1970 to 5.4 percent in 2016, as reported in the Mercury News.

    Is this possibly a measure of the inhospitable environment for blacks in the hometown of Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris?

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