EXCLUSIVE: Witnesses Describe Two-Track System for CCW Permits in Santa Clara County

To qualify for a concealed gun permit in California, an applicant must have good character, a valid reason and live in the county where it’s issued.

Checking all three boxes gets a permit seeker to the next stage, a background check. If the record’s clean, they can sign up for a class to prove firearm proficiency.

At that point, in accordance with California law, it’s ultimately up to the sheriff in each jurisdiction to decide whether to grant it.

In Santa Clara County, however, it seems the vast majority of applicants never got a chance to take those prerequisite steps.

According to testimony from officers who processed the licensing for Sheriff Laurie Smith, most petitions languished in a file drawer without anyone weighing their merits.

Whether or not by design, the system manufactured scarcity.

Meanwhile, CCW permits fell to the agency’s public information office, which suggests that the service was viewed under the purview of community relations.

On July 20—the first day of criminal grand jury proceedings to hear evidence in what Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen believes was a bribery conspiracy—Deputy District Attorney Matt Braker had just finished laying out the prosecution’s theories when he called first witness to the stand: Sgt. Richard Glennon.

A lawyer-turned-lawman, Glennon handled CCW petitions from 2016 to 2019 as a member of Sheriff Laurie Smith’s communications team. At Braker’s prompting, Glennon explained how a applying for a CCW should work versus how it actually worked during his few-year tenure in the unit that processed them.

When someone sent an application through the mail or dropped it off at the Sheriff’s Office headquarters off of Younger Avenue in San Jose, Glennon said he’d log the information on a spreadsheet and then file it. He said that’s how his predecessor, James Jensen, taught him to do it.

Braker pressed for more detail.

“And then, you are telling us, after that you would, at the instruction of now-Capt. Jensen, you would just stick it in a filing cabinet?”

“Correct,” Glennon replied.

“Would you set up an interview?”

“No.”

“Would you do a Live Scan?” Braker asked, referring to a background check software.

“No.”

“Would you do any background?”

“No.”

“Would you see if they lived in the county?”

“No.”

“Would you send them a letter telling them you got it, you are not getting it?”

“No.”

As PIO, Glennon said he’d often field calls from frustrated applicants checking on the status of their permits. Again going by Jensen’s instructions, he said he’d typically blame the delays on something out of his control. “So we would usually tell people that we would get to it, but there is a backlog,” Glennon said. “Be patient.”

“Did you come up with that explanation on your own or is that something that Capt. Jensen told you to say?” Braker asked.

“That was the process before I started,” Glennon answered. “That was the explanation they were providing.”

“By Jensen?”

“Correct.”

“But did you ever get to it?” Braker continued. “You said backlog, we will get to it, but did that, in reality, ever happen? Did they just go in the filing cabinet?”

“They went to the filing cabinet and stayed there.”

California Penal Code Sec. 26205 requires sheriffs to process CCW petitions within 90 days of receiving them or a month after clearing a background—whichever comes later.

“Her position was if she had the application but never started the background, she was within the Penal Code,” he said. “So they were always kind of pending.”

That’s how it reportedly worked for the average Joe. The winning applications usually came from Undersheriff Rick Sung, Capt. Robert Durr or the sheriff herself. But the biggest driver of CCW applications, by far, according to Glennon, was Capt. Jensen.

The second public information officer (PIO) to testify took the stand on July 23. Sgt. Reginald Cooks, the first PIO from the sheriff’s custody division, assumed the role in 2017 and worked over the ensuing couple of years alongside Glennon at first and later with then-Deputy Michael Low.

Like Glennon, Cooks described a CCW permitting system with no clear rules or set timelines. When he took the job, there was no formal training on how to handle the applications, so he followed the process inherited by Glennon.

When an application would come in, Cooks said he’d notify Glennon or one of their superiors and that was usually the extent of his involvement. But he observed that some applications were handled differently.

According to Cooks, applications from prosecutors, judges, elected officials, San Jose Sharks players and other “VIPs” typically came through Capt. Jensen, who remained involved in CCW issuance even after getting promoted out of the PIO unit. Jensen also reportedly took private meetings with VIP applicants outside the Sheriff’s Office, sometimes at a nearby Starbucks or Jamba Juice on Coleman Avenue.

Because that’s just the way things worked, Cooks said he didn’t think much about it.

“Did it seem a little odd that instead of this guy going to the Sheriff's Office and handling his business, he was doing it at Starbucks?” Deputy District Attorney John Chase asked Cooks during his second round of testimony.

“At the time,” Cooks replied, “no.”

“So now it does seem a little odd?”

“I mean, sitting here at a grand jury after my phone has been confiscated, yes.”

In testifying before Braker some days later, Sgt. Michael Low described feeling much the same way when he came to the PIO position as a deputy in early 2019. With no formal guidance on how to handle gun permits, he simply watched and learned as he went.

“I just kind of tried to figure it out on my own,” Low said.

Even when he caught a red flag, such as out-of-county home addresses on applications handed off by Capt. Jensen, Low said processed the paperwork, figuring there must be an exemption for people who spend enough of their work week in the jurisdiction.

“To be honest,” Low told Braker, “I was new. I didn’t know any better. I was trying to get my job done and get my portion of the process done. I had no discretion whether or not somebody were to get a permit. I was essentially doing clerical work.”

Of more than 700 people who applied for a CCW permit in Santa Clara County in the past six years, records show that fewer than 150 ever received one. Sheriff Smith reportedly stopped issuing them in 2018 after Rosen began serving search warrants to find links between political donations and the concealed-carry permits.

Neither Sheriff Smith nor her PIOs are accused of any crimes.

But Jensen faces several felony counts of conspiracy, bribery and falsification of records in a case that has also ensnared attorneys Christopher Schumb, Harpaul Nahal, gun manufacturer Michael Nichols and former AS Solution CEO Christian West. All defendants have denied charges of wrongdoing and plan to fight the case.

An arraignment for the five defendants is scheduled for 9am Monday at the Santa Clara County Superior Court Hall of Justice.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

8 Comments

  1. The Sheriff’s media people handled the CCW requests. Well, the campaign where the money went had a media spokesperson as well.

    Hm, a virtual interview from the Hawaiian Islands is being scheduled????

  2. One may wonder how many concealed weapons are carried around SCC every day WITHOUT a permit. We occasionally hear news stories about someone getting pulled over or apprehended for some “incident” where a gun was found and usually, these are people with “priors.” So what are the odds Jenn that these people are less of a threat to the community at large than those who at least submitted their name and background info and at least go through some process (no matter how flimsy) to get the right to carry a weapon? Could you look into that? Now THAT would be a real investigative story,

  3. First of all, thank you for the bit honest reporting. God knows we need more of it.
    Second, I agree with HQ’s post, there should be a follow up on the paperwork and see how many applicants have ever been convited of possession or any other other offense vs the pile of records of violators of the law. Finally, it would be interest to know if the application of official scrutiny would ever actually fix the corruption or just stop for awhile while they are being scrutinized but will go back to oppressing individuals rights under the law.

  4. I will congratulate Wadsworth on looking into this gross abuse of power and corruption that has been known about for decades. Still, better late than never.

    One name that keeps popping up with regards to Sheriff Smith and donations is the owner of Plaza Loans.

    That’s a sticky one I would guess.
    It seems that SJI has allowed Plaza Loans to write an article and print it in this fine magazine. How, exactly, is Plaza Loans linked to SJI?

    I’m sure it’s all above board and all, but………

  5. Mr Ashbless

    One persons “Punching Up” is another’s political “hatchet job”.

    Ms Wadsworth gets her rewards in awards and her sources get theirs, likely worth more than said awards.

    Everyone wins.

  6. Ms. Wadsworth wrote, “State law gives sheriffs sole discretion to grant the permits, known as CCWs.”
    All California municipal police chiefs may issue CCWs, although some may cede this process to the sheriff.
    https://www.sccgov.org/sites/sheriff/Pages/ccw.aspx: The Sheriff may issue a license to any person residing within Santa Clara County. However, persons residing in a municipality other than those served by the Sheriff’s Office are encouraged to first contact their local police chief and apply for the license.

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