Fight Erupts at Santa Clara County’s Main Jail

Santa Clara County Main Jail went on lockdown this morning after a fight broke out in the southern wing, authorities said.

One inmate was taken to Valley Med to get stitches, but has since been sent back to the jail. Two other inmates sustained bruises and bumps, according to Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. James Jensen.

The brawl erupted just around 8am Tuesday on a second-floor dormitory in the jail’s south tower, Jensen said.

Correctional deputies used pepper spray to break it up. There were no cameras in the dorm, which Jensen said highlights the need for more surveillance behind bars.

Main Jail2-Online

The dorm where Tuesday's fight occurred.

It’s unclear what started the outbreak, but Jensen said violence is common in both jails. Last year, he said, there were 225 fights reported in both Elmwood and the Main Jail; this year, there have been 78.

“This is not a rare incident,” Jensen said of Tuesday’s fight.

There has been an uptick in violence in local jails since California passed sweeping prison reforms in 2011, Jensen noted.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment plan, thousands of felons who would normally serve their sentence in state prisons were reassigned to local jails. The reform required jails to house more inmates for longer periods of time.

Gang-related assaults in the South Bay’s two jails rose more than 280 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to the county. Inmate attacks on jail guards rose 20 percent during that same time, which jail officials credited to overcrowding.

But Sheriff Smith’s jails have come under scrutiny this past year after three of her correctional deputies allegedly murdered a mentally ill inmate. Michael Tyree’s fatal beating last summer spurred numerous reforms and put the county's correctional arm in the public eye.

A melee in in the Main Jail’s maximum-security 4A ward last month became center of a heated debate. Retired Superior Court judge LaDoris Cordell, who leads a jails reform commission created because of Tyree’s death, called the timing suspect.

The fight happened a week after a schedule change let more inmate out together and a day after Sheriff Smith made headlines for buying surveillance cameras for that unit on her personal credit cards.

But the sheriff, who was reimbursed for the purchase, dismissed the criticism and pointed out that jail fights are nothing out of the ordinary.

This story has been updated.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Isn’t it amazing how bad the jails have become under the “leadership” of Laurie Smith. Don’t be fooled by the County’s poor attempt to place the blame on the prison reform that has occurred. You really want to see the cause of the 280% increase in violence it is apparent…LAURIE SMITH! Since she assumed control of the jails she has gutted staffing and services. Just look, she takes control one year later all hell begins to break loose and comes to a head with the death of Tyree. Yet the county and most of the local media are allowing her to try to portray herself as a reformist?

    Jack Slade is right, she did rise through the ranks the wrong way and according the the message she tries to intimidate her employees with will remain in charge until she decides to leave. She often says she is a woman and can’t lose in the area. If that is the case it is a sad state of affairs we live in. Don’t elect the more qualified person because of their gender let’s keep an out of touch mad woman in charge. Get her out and get her out soon. How much more proof do the voters need?

  2. So wait… there were 225 fights last year… meaning an average of 18.75 fights a month…

    There have been 78 fights this year in just three months meaning and average of 26 fights a month.

    And yet “Truth” Jensen is calling this “normal”? How does Santa Rita or other jail facilities compare? Prison reform happened in 2011, what is responsible for the increase in fights over the past three months? Tired of hearing every thing blamed on prison reform. The consolidation plan analysis predicted this, the 2 needs assessments since 2010 indicated the environment is in severe decline since 2009 for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with prison reform yet the sheriff has taken NO action to mitigate the prison reform issues, nor the issues her consolidation plan has causes.

    I’d also be *really* curious, of the 225 fights last year, what percentage happened on 4A?

    Sorry, I know, those are the questions Jennifer is afraid to ask because even she knows the vengeance of the sheriff.

      • Well, that’s what happens when SJI deletes comments… people like you respond to a conversation where you have no idea what was even said. lol I don’t think race was even mentioned, but thank you for your opinion, I’ll give it the consideration it deserves.

        • > people like you respond to a conversation where you have no idea what was even said. lol I don’t think race was even mentioned,

          I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were accusing someone of non-racial bigotry.

          My bad.

          In the future, if you would like to accuse someone of bigotry, you might want to clarify whether it’s racial bigotry or non-racial bigotry. It apparently makes a difference to some people.

          • I think the original comment was about gender and sexual orientation, not race.

          • It was about gender. A comment about the fear Sheriff Smith uses against her staff to stop them from speaking out against her. To stop her staff for coming forward to voice their concerns about their department and the lack of concern Smith has for the residents of Santa Clara County. My comment was in reference to the fact Smith consistently tells her staff she can’t lose an election because she is a woman. The fact she tells many she will decide who the next sheriff is and leans on SJI to help her stay in office. But just as Smith pulls the “they pick on me because I’m a woman…poor me vote for me again” BS, someone took my point and twisted it to benefit their view.
            Let’s look at the facts instead of what you may think is socially responsible, and realize it wasn’t gender bashing. Smith has had jails since 2010. Fights have increased 280%! She blames the recession, yet she’s has revived significant raises. She blames prison realignment yet she has done NOTHING as a “leader” to address the issues. She is no leader, no manager, no sheriff. She is a JOKE and should be removed from office.

          • It was about both gender and sexual identity… he didn’t like the “gays and lesbians” that work in the jails these days either.

          • I’m sorry, I did not realized you did not know the definition of bigot:

            bigot: a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)

          • It would help to clarify things if those who have the moral authority to identify other people as “bigots”, “racists”, “sexists”, “homophobes”, “haters”, etc., etc. would adopt some sort of indicator to identify themselves, so that those of us who are just ordinary people could recognize them and respect their authority.

            They could, for example, put a letter (D) after their names.

          • It’s a pretty simple definition and has nothing to do with my “moral authority.” I’m sorry it’s beyond your ability to grasp. Seriously now, stop struggling for a vindicating argument here; I’m embarrassed for you.

          • > It’s a pretty simple definition and has nothing to do with my “moral authority.”

            Oh good. I thought you might be patronizing.

            > I’m sorry it’s beyond your ability to grasp.

            Looks like I may have been right after all.

          • Bubble, can we at least agree that Smith should be removed from office due to poor performance, ethical issues, a lack of transparency, retaliation against her employees and mismanaged of our tax dollars?
            These are all points that came forward as a result of the Blue Ribbon Commission and things I hear have become common knowledge around the department. I think everyone deserves better. If nothing else a change in leadership can bring a new perspective that the jails, inmates, department and community desperately need!

          • > Bubble, can we at least agree that Smith should be removed from office due to poor performance,

            We can’t agree. But we can’t disagree, either. I’m agnostic on Sheriff Smith simply because I have no dog in the fight.

            It seems to me to be very much “inside politics” and I’m pretty much “outside the bubble”.

            I do wonder how bright Sheriff Smith is. She is reputedly a “Republican” but I have heard that she retained Rich Robinson as consultant.

            Robinson has said unkind things about Republicans. Who does Sheriff Smith think he was referring to?

      • I continue to be baffled by your indictment of the “race card,” SJO. Respectfully, the 60s is known for Brown v. Board, among other things. That outlawed segregation in schools. So is integration of schools and facilities “playing the race card?” Was the racial segregation that it fixed some neutral, non-racial state of affairs that the liberals just mucked with unnecessarily? Or was that a different kind of “race card?” As always, you are witty, elliptical and entertaining. But it is either difficult to figure out what you are saying, or appalling to realize where you stand.

  3. My actual point was Smith wound up an Assistant Sheriff for all the wrong reasons, my comment was in agreement with a comment posted by Jack Slade. I followed up it with my point that she continues to be re-elected due to several things including; voter apathy, incumbency and her gender. I hear from a family member, who is a woman and employed there, the message from the Sheriff’s supporters is she can’t lose because she is a woman in Santa Clara County. I was only pointing out the message the few Smith supporters point out to quiet any opposition. I was actually a big supporter of Carr when she was DA. Bring on a proactive, ETHICAL and intelligent law enforcement professional, male or female, and replace the joke of a Sheriff we have.
    From what I hear the message of Smith remaining in office until she “decides” to leave is to keep her department in-line, stop them from speaking out against her. The fear of future retaliation hangs over the line staff like buzzards circling above a wounded animal.
    I am pleased the vast majority of those I speak with in my day to day dealings are tired of her and aware she needs to leave. But thanks for trying to make this something it isn’t. Hasn’t anyone else realized Smith does one of two things when things don’t go her way. Blames the Unions and states it’s because she just “tough” on her employees, or people are picking on her because she is a “woman.” Once again, love Carr, love AG Harris, love Sheriff Hennesy (SF), even considering Hillary…realize Smith needs to be removed from office. Nuff said.

  4. From someone who was in this last fight, they said the jail staff keeps putting Nortenos & black inmates in the same bunk KNOWING they will fight. This happens constantly & very much on purpose so Ms. Smith & the others can shrug their shoulders and say, “See, they’re a bunch of thugs & prison reform isn’t working…” Nice try, Sheriff. Those of us with brains & hearts know you’re playing games & your prison guards are the biggest gang in there.

  5. Bubble, I really don’t have a dog in the fight either, I have a family member who works there who has shown me what is really going on. As for Robinson, yes Smith does use him. And from what I hear they’re friends as well and she often contacts him for advice. As for her party affiliation she is a republican but only in name. In fact during the last election she tried to use her opponents faith against him trying to highlight she is pro-choice. Her friends at South Bay Labor played along and lashed out at him. Funny thing, a sheriff should be neutral in their job and only enforce the laws, not offer their opinion.
    One final thought, although it may be inside politics it does impact public safety in the County. It is my understanding she also plays a role in federal funds for equipment. With her lack of ethics, questionable management and poor understanding of policing her being the sheriff does impact is all. I wish someone would start a recall movement against her.

  6. There is overcrowding in the prisons; there is overcrowding in the jails. Pick your poison.

    How does Santa Clara compare to other jurisdiction?

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