Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen has impaneled a criminal grand jury as part of an ongoing investigation into the issuance of concealed gun permits by the office of Sheriff Laurie Smith, sources in the legal community say. However, neither the sheriff nor the District Attorney’s office will officially confirm or deny the inquiry.
The investigation into political donors and recipients of the permits—first reported by San Jose Inside last summer—has moved to the grand jury stage on Monday, NBC Bay Area reported in a Thursday night broadcast.
A $45,000 contribution by bodyguard Martin Nielsen to an independent campaign committee sparked the investigation after it was spotted in public campaign filings.
Sources close to Smith dismiss the investigation as politically motivated and say they plan to fight hard against allegations that the approval of permits was tied to campaign contributions. In going after an elected rival, sources say Rosen has gone rogue and is engaging in prosecutorial over-reach.
According to officials familiar with but not authorized to publicly speak on the case, Deputy District Attorney Matt Braker led the investigation with colleague and head of the Public Integrity Unit John Chase.
The DA would have begun the grand jury proceedings sooner had the pandemic not forced a months-long shutdown of the courts.
A DA spokesman declined to confirm the news. As did Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Dep. Jessica Gabaldon, who directed this news outlet to the County Counsel for comment.
County Counsel James Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In California, felony charges are brought either after a preliminary hearing or an indictment by a grand jury. While jurors at a jury trial decide whether a defendant is guilty or innocent, the grand jury determines whether there is probable cause to believe that the accused has committed a crime.
Defendants are not present for criminal grand juries, and in many cases unaware that the proceedings are taking place. Instead, prosecutors convene grand juries to present evidence and witness testimony to argue that they have enough cause to bring charges.
According to an explainer on the process by Shouse Law Group, prosecutors tend to use the grand jury-indictment process in cases of high media interest, involve a public official or if the allegations against the defendant seem weak.