Don Morrissey, the embattled president of the Santa Clara County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (DSA), has sent his resignation letter to members.
“Within our association and the broader law enforcement community, leaders must not only set an example, but demand accountability when we fall short,” he wrote in the announcement issued late Thursday afternoon. “That accountability must start with me. And that’s why today I am announcing my resignation as your Association President.”
His departure comes a little more than a month after San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley revealed the extent of his involvement in a texting scandal that led to his second demotion and cost several other officers their jobs.
Revelations about Morrissey’s complicity in the bigoted texts and his demotion from lieutenant to sergeant in 2012 for browsing internet porn and posting online sex ads at work reflected poorly on both the union and retired Undersheriff John Hirokawa, the DSA-backed candidate challenging Sheriff Laurie Smith’s re-election this fall.
Hirokawa defended Morrissey in depositions and media interviews and counted on him as a close political ally until the day San Jose Inside published its report about the texting scandal. Only then did Hirokawa—who said he previously lacked enough information about Morrissey’s participation in the texts—urge him to relinquish his DSA post.
Though multiple sources say Hirokawa helped edit Morrissey’s letter, the retired undersheriff said the resignation was news to him. “No, I did not help write Morrissey’s resignation letter,” he wrote in an email a couple hours after Morrissey announced his decision. “I have no knowledge that he has stepped down. As I have previously stated, I think Morrissey stepping down is the right thing to do.”
Morrissey’s letter references a heated July 10 meeting in which union members expressed their dismay about his failure to report texts from fellow officers calling people “nig nogs,” “gooks” and “kikes,” among other slurs. In addition to failing to notify his superiors about the hateful texts exchanged on and off duty, Morrissey took flak for sending troubling messages of his own, including one calling a fellow cop “shemale,” several making light of sexual assault in jail and another that compared the sheriff to a vulgar term for female anatomy.
For much of the July 10 parley, sources say, Morrissey sat to the side while his attorney spoke for him. His defenders dismissed the outrage of female, African American and other minority members present as politically motivated, framing the dispute as one between Smith supporters—“Laurie Loyalists,” to quote some of Morrissey’s associates—and those backing her former second-in-command.
On the same day of that meeting, Hirokawa’s campaign issued a news release that cast the texting scandal as the symptom of a systemic issue that Smith’s administration has failed to adequately address. Morrissey echoed that message in his resignation letter.
“I left this meeting even more committed to addressing systemic issues regarding bias and the lack of reporting within our department,” Morrissey wrote in his second and final draft. “I met with our DSA Board in an effort to identify potential procedural reforms, and engaged prominent community leaders for input and assistance in not only addressing issues of bias, but rebuilding the community trust on which every one of our deputies depends.”
Though Morrissey initially insisted on remaining DSA president even after the gathering earlier this month, he said in his letter that he has since reconsidered.
Smith, who has been open about wanting everyone involved in the texting scandal fired, said the way Morrissey went about announcing his resignation was self-serving.
“Mr. Morrissey continues to deflect, distort and distract from his complicity with racist, homophobic and sexually assaultive text messages,” she said in a statement to reporters. “His latest attempt at reputational self-preservation disparages the entire Sheriff’s Office with its reckless and unfounded accusation of institutional bias. Unbelievably, he then appoints himself as the individual to rebuilt trust with the community, trust that he, as an individual, has broken. Give me a break. The public is a hell of a lot smarter than Mr. Morrissey gives them credit for and they will see right through his latest smoke screen.”
Along with heightened pressure from within the DSA ranks, Morrissey has been taking heat from other groups as well. PORAC—the Peace Officers Research Association of California, the largest law enforcement organization in the state—forced Morrissey to step down as secretary in response to San Jose Inside’s reporting last month.
In correspondence to DSA Vice President Roger Winslow, who leads PORAC’s Central Coast chapter, PORAC President Brian Marvel raised additional concerns about the group’s previous endorsement of Hirokawa. The San Jose Police Officers’ Association unilaterally pulled its support for Hirokawa, Marvel noted. What’s more, he said, the PORAC chapter helmed by Winslow never produced the ratifying minutes to verify its own endorsement in the June primary.
“PORAC does not consider that there is any endorsement ... for the Santa Clara County sheriff’s race in the November general election,” Marvel wrote in his July 12 bulletin.
Meanwhile, San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President Rev. Jethroe Moore—who also weighed in on Morrissey’s resignation letter before it was release—has publicly called for the twice-demoted officer to step down from DSA leadership.
“Morrissey has shown that he is unfit to continue as head of the union,” Moore said in a statement issued earlier this week. “His continued leadership would serve as an endorsement of hateful speech and attitudes among law enforcement. Such conduct has no place in the community or the police force.”
Moore, who endorses Hirokawa for sheriff, said his push for accountability will continue even after Morrissey steps down. The NAACP chapter president said he plans to lobby the county Board of Supervisors to draft a policy that specifically addresses how to respond to bigoted text messages.
“That needs to happen,” Moore said in a phone call Thursday. “And until then, hopefully, reconciliation can start within the union, and they can listen to the black members and members of color who were subjected to this kind of hate.”
The local NAACP chapter will host a candidate forum on Sept. 12, which Moore said will give the public another chance to hear from Hirokawa and Smith about the texting issue and officer discipline.
Below is a copy of the letter Morrissey sent to DSA members Thursday afternoon.
Dear DSA Member,
Over the last several years, our Association, indeed all of law enforcement, has been engaged in a long overdue discussion on the need to combat racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bias and harassment in our departments.
As the frontline professionals entrusted to protect and serve a proud and diverse community, I recognize that we must hold ourselves to the highest standard. Within our association and the broader law enforcement community, leaders must not only set an example, but demand accountability when we fall short. That accountability must start with me.
And that’s why today I am announcing my resignation as your Association President. As media reports about shameful conduct at our jail have resurfaced in recent weeks, it has been a very emotional time for many of us. At the General Membership Meeting on the tenth, I was moved by members’ very personal stories, concerns, anger, and frustrations.
I left this meeting even more committed to addressing systemic issues regarding bias and the lack of reporting within our department. I met with our DSA Board in an effort to identify potential procedural reforms, and engaged prominent community leaders for input and assistance in not only addressing issues of bias, but rebuilding the community trust on which every one of our deputies depends.
Ultimately, I believe that each of those steps is not nearly enough, without also giving our department and our association the opportunity to turn the page with new leadership.
While I regret the unfortunate events that brought us to today, I am hopeful that this Association will keep working to realize the highest ideals of public service at the heart of our mission, to include eliminating all forms of discrimination and harassment from our department and to improve the level of communication with members and the community as a whole. Sincerely,
And here is the full text of Morrissey’s first draft, which was circulated earlier in the day among friends and advisers.
Dear DSA Member,
The past few weeks have been very emotional for me and for many of you.
At the General Membership Meeting on the tenth, I heard the very personal stories, concerns, anger, and frustrations of several of our members. I also heard the complicated feelings of both disappointment and support that moved me deeply.
In the light of the meeting I was even more committed to doing what I could to heal the issues that arose. I met with the DSA Board and identified what I thought was an answer to the systemic issues regarding biases and the lack of reporting that still remain at the department.
Furthermore, I met with prominent community leaders to discuss the issues, my proposed program, and asked for their assistance.
With that said, I have revisited my decision and feel that resigning as President of the DSA may best serve the membership at this time.
I am proud of the accomplishments your Board and I have made over the past several year. We have negotiated and received arguably the best contract in DSA history (including a 26% pay increase), purchased and renovated our own building, began hosting courses at our building, increased member and community events, just to name a few.
I am also hopeful the DSA Board will continue to improve the level of communication with members who feel they have experienced or witnessed bias, racism, sexism, homophobia, retaliation, or any other form of harassment or discrimination at the department.
I ask you, please if you see something, say something. Our inaction can hurt those around you as well as our profession though it is not our intent.