Former SJ Police Auditor to Lead Blue Ribbon Jail Commission

San Jose’s recently retired independent police auditor will lead a task force assigned to investigate Santa Clara County’s jails.

LaDoris Cordell, who served as a judge before becoming a civilian police auditor, will chair blue ribbon commission, county officials announced Monday.

The Board of Supervisors convened the committee after the Aug. 27 beating death of 31-year-old mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree. Three jail guards were charged with his murder: Jereh Lubrin, Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriquez.

In the week that followed, Sheriff Laurie Smith, who oversees the Department of Corrections (DOC), called for a top-down review of custody operations. From a field of nearly 100 applicants, Supervisor Dave Cortese appointed the following 25 people to the board.

  • LaDoris Cordell, retired Santa Clara County judge and former independent police auditor
  • Susan Bernadini, retired Santa Clara County judge
  • Stephen Manley, Santa Clara County judge
  • Wes Mukoyama, Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Board
  • Gail Price, Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Board
  • Navah Statman, National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Divya Reddy, Union of American Physicians and Dentists
  • Dale Weatherspoon, pastor
  • Pablo Gaxiola, former inmate, Goodwill of Silicon Valley Re-entry Programs
  • Christine Clifford, San Jose PACT and Silicon Valley De-Bug
  • Rose Amador-LeBeau, La Raza Roundtable
  • Rick Callendar, NAACP
  • Alison Brunner, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley
  • Hope Holland, National Alliance on Mental Illness, former inmate
  • Erin O’Neill, San Jose Office of the Independent Auditor
  • Dennis Grilli, former police officer from Santa Clara and Richmond
  • Otto Lee, former Sunnyvale mayor
  • Cindy Chavez, county supervisor
  • Ken Yeager, county supervisor
  • Sheriff Laurie Smith
  • DOC Chief John Hirokawa
  • Chief Probation Officer Laura Garnette
  • District Attorney Jeff Rosen
  • Behavioral Health Director Toni Tullys
  • Alternate: Ann Rosenzweig, member of Amnesty International

“They were chosen for their unique perspectives that can move us toward a more holistic approach to better serve and keep inmate, custody staff and visitors safe,” Cortese told reporters at Monday's press conference.

The commission will hold a series of public meetings over the next four months to evaluate jail procedures and issue recommendation on how to improve them. Cordell will guide commissioners to set meeting dates and drum up a work plan.

“The tragic death of Michael Tyree must mean something," Cortese said. "His death must be a catalyst for a new paradigm as to how our society treats those in custody with mental health challenges.”

While it's better to be proactive rather than reactive, Cordell said, at least the county has acted quickly in forming the commission.

“Santa Clara County has a unique opportunity born through tragedy to do something bold, dramatic and affordable if we collectively think big, innovatively and be unafraid to act on our values," Cortese added.

The commission will meet once or twice a month on Saturdays to give the public a chance to attend. The meetings will be streamed online and broadcast on local public access TV.

Sheriff Smith said she welcomes the scrutiny.

"I’m open to any and all ideas on improving our operations," she said.

Cordell said she agreed to participate in the commission because of Smith's promise of transparency.

In 2013, Cordell served on an 18-member task force charged with studying race relations at San Jose State University after four white students were arrested for alleged hate crimes against an African American student.

The county posted a video of Monday's press conference on the blue ribbon commission here.

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


  1. Would like you to know that Christine Clifford is also representing PACT, People Acting in Community Together, please include.
    Barbara Hansen

  2. > From a field of nearly 100 applicants, Supervisor Dave Cortese appointed the following 25 people to the board.

    Looks like a balanced, impartial panel to me: 96 percent Democrats and 4 percent Republicans.

    Of course, the only “Republican is Rich Robinson’s client Laurie Smith, who some people suspect of being nuts.

    Laurie Smith, not Rich Robinson.

  3. Judge Cordell praised the county for acting quickly to provide her with yet another lucrative payday requiring very little actual work.

  4. Cordell is going to pass up Lansdowne as the ultimate quadruple pension dipping millionaire! The jail needs RCITI

  5. A crisis is a terrible thing to cash in on, but let’s not let it go to wast.
    What does 25 blue ribbons going to cost the tax payer this time?

  6. With Cordell’s involvement, among others, you can be sure that it is only a matter of time before all those blue ribbons are spattered with excrement.

  7. Let’s not overlook Ms. Cordell’s obvious intelligence, as she’s proved herself smart enough to keep her reform efforts aimed at everything except improving African-American civility…

    where failure cannot be hidden.

  8. I could not find out how much compensation was given to each of the panel participants or is that just for the leaders such as Judge Cordell, any information would be very much appreciated, I hope you all have a nice Wednesday.

  9. Is there anyone on this entire “Cordell Inquisition” panel that is not a political hack?! Dennis Grilli is the only one who is listed as, and who might therefore be mistaken for, a police officer. The only problem there would be his appearance, in police uniform, identifying himself as “”Dennis Grilli, Police Officer” in a political advertisement that implied, if not outright provided a de facto, political endorsement, of Jim Lawson, a political candidate in a Milpitas election back around 1996. (As reported in the “Metro”).

    Grilli’s political behavior was to say the least, inappropriate, and was to say the most, a violation of the “Hatch Act”. It certainly does not speak well for his judgment or bode well for his “objectivity” when in the presence or “under the influence” of other political go-alongs.

    Let me save everyone some time. Here’s the inevitable conclusion that Cordell will come to regarding all the jail’s problems: Racism; Implicit bias; Insensitivity due to lack of diversity training; and, who knows, probably even “White privilege”. Oh, and did I mention Racism. The facts will be irrelevant. As well, in order to avoid the obvious and unimaginative repetition of all the usual factors heretofore mentioned, there might be some remarks made about how the mentally ill are not being helped enough and likely some mention made of the need for more studies and more public funding of something or other.

    Cordell has undoubtedly already made up her mind and none of the political jellyfish on the panel will have the audacity to disagree with her and risk a non-rebuttable accusation or implication of racism.

    Recommendations the panel will almost certainly make: More sensitivity and diversity training; better help for the mentally unstable; and some meaningless change in jail operations that will achieve nothing while giving the illusion of progress.

    If Cordell is tired of my cynical (albeit likely accurate) opinions and predictions, she can end them with one simple act; Come up with anything positive and significant about jail staff or operations. Report what they might be doing right. That would kill me.

    • Note to Cordell: Jail Nurse staff rejecting arrestees at Lower Booking before or after an Emergency Room Doctor has cleared said arrestee for incarceration does NOT count as a positive….

      • For a (very) brief second I thought to myself, …”Maybe Cordell can get those clowns to finally open up their infirmary or at least make it a priority with this supposed new jail.”… I quickly realized the issue there.. She’d use the intake of “injured prisoners” to cherry pick her self righteous, self generated Force complaints (of which she has no standing and should not be able to file.)

    • Grilli is also married to a Milpitas council member, and seems to be related in some manner to a Santa Clara Superior Court judge. He’s another political hack from all appearances.
      The reality is, this has gone from an examination of the jails to an examination of the deputies and a “blue ribbon commission” to create a mental health program in the jails. While mental health issues *need* to be addressed and a program (maybe one similar to the one Santa Clara Co has been calling a success that they implented about 18 mos. ago) created, you need a strong foundation to put it on. These guys are going to re-invent the wheel, put it on an ancient cart with 3 other broken wheels and declare victory. The death of Walter Roches, and the events of Monday indicate that we need a lot more than just a review of mental health issues within the jail. Of course find Roches name in any of the recent reports about the commission.

      I did notice that Grilli’s “correctional operations” experience is not listed here, over at the Murk it’s “Dennis Grilli, former police officer with experience in custody operations.” The man retired 10 years ago, after a 30 years career, of which the first few years he spent in a 90 person jail. They literally tried to pass off 40 year old experience in a jail system 1/100 the size of SCCSO’s jails as “correctional operations” experience to be used by this commission.

      That’s about the standard we expect in this country now.

  10. This is a complete sham. Cordell had an all-female staff as “Independent” police auditor. Can you imagine her outraged reaction if a Caucasian auditor had selected an all-male staff? Her hypocrisy is so thick you could slice it like cheese.

    Judge Cordell is quoted as saying, “The only way to build trust in any system is transparency. The more you are transparent, the more people trust you.”

    But since there is no transparency about how Cordell and the rest were picked, naturally there is no trust.

    TPTB do not want anyone independent, unbiased, or on any committee that actually proposes real world fixes. This is a media show for public consumption. The central point: if anyone is named as being at fault, it will never be the deputies’ supervisor, or anyone higher up. But why have supervisors if they don’t supervise?

    If they really wanted something done along these lines, they would first pick a name out of a hat for the top position, from a dozen or more qualified individuals. That selection process would be totally transparent and fair. The name would be selected in public, with the media present. (How did LaDoris get the job? They don’t say; it’s a secret.)

    But since they might actually get an honest person with an unbiased selection, and a committee that recommends that the deputies’ supervisor, manager, and upper echelon bureaucrats should be terminated for failing to oversee and control their employees, they will never allow a selection process like that. Any discipline will be limited to the deputies, but no one higher up. Remember Harry Truman? “The buck stops here.” Those days are long gone. This committee is just the cockroaches scurrying for cover.

    Next, they should select the committee members at random, from a much larger group from across the political spectrum. Say, an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and ‘Decline To State’. The selection process should be double-blind. The only other requirements should be a clean record; a county resident and taxpayer, with maybe a credit score over 700 to weed out the irresponsible ones.

    But of course that will never happen. Why? Because the conclusion has already been decided upon. Posteriors have been covered. Now the committee has the task of pretending that after much intense debate, and after considering all the evidence and hearing witnesses, they will issue a carefully edited report — which none of them wrote.

    The bottom line is this: unless it’s made clear, by repeated examples, that those supervising the jails will lose their cushy and lucrative government appointments if people they are responsible for die due to malfeasance, nothing will really change. This is just bread and circuses, and the bureaucratic appointees who were supposed to be supervising the jail will skate as usual.

    • While I don’t entirely disagree with you, I’m curious where does “supervisor” begin and do you understand the circumstances in the jails? Sergeants, Lieutenants, captains are all supervisors, all with different responsibilities. But the problem is not necessarily them — when you have 1 LT on duty, and only a few sergeants for the entire jail system, they can’t possibly provide the level of coverage that is required. The sheriff has been gutting personnel numbers since she was given the jails back. The last move I’m aware of was to move 16 enforcement sergeants out and replace them with only 12 corrections sergeants. She’s reduced staffing from approx. 70 officers per shift to 50 per shift. That’s just a couple examples of many how she’s cut personnel. She’s made a joke of training. There is no standard to ensure newer officers are always placed with more experienced officers… the list of administrative failures goes on and on, each and every one a gap for mistakes or malfeasance to occur that could cost lives.

      The sheriff makes those decisions. The public is “happy” and they “like” the sheriff. They just re-elected her despite the DSA and CPOA endorsing someone else and the DSA passing a no confidence vote. When she said they were keystone cops who were just angry because she held them responsible, the public chose to believe that.

      Most deputies want change. Most of them said they wanted accountability in their office during the election. Instead they got the same leader who has been dragging this office into the gutter for political kudos.

      • I just sent this:

        Dear Honorable Board of Supervisors,

        I feel compelled to tell you that I am deeply disappointed in what I read in the articles below: secret-jail. nsider-disbanding.

        While I understand your need to protect the County from litigation, I find it deeply disturbing that Judge Cordell was not informed about this action before she and other Blue Ribbon Commissioners agreed to volunteer their valuable time to sit on this badly needed commission.

        By omitting this vital information from Judge Cordell and her fellow Commissioners, I feel you have betrayed the very trust that I and the public have placed in you, and have violated the hopes we had in seeing the vital changes that are needed in our jails to take place.

        The makeup of this Commission is also of concern to me. How can you properly investigate the jails without experts who know how to properly run the jails? Many experts in this area that I know applied to this Commission and were rejected! Without input from these experts proper changes will not and cannot occur.

        Further, in my opinion, having Sheriff Smith on the Blue Ribbon Commission is a true conflict of interest. (Stripping her of a vote doesn’t negate the fact that she shouldn’t be on it!) The time for throwing Deputy’s and other staff members under the bus has come to an end. She needs to be held accountable for what has gone on in the jails under her watch before someone else escapes, dies, an admitted murderer is turned away trying to turn themselves in, or is given special treatment!

        Also, the financial cuts that have been made to jail staff, training, and programs needs to be fully addressed as well, because these cuts have caused the death and mistreatment of inmates, AND staff shortages and the lack of proper training have put Officers at risk of injury and harm.

        My hope is that the Honorable Judge Cordell and her fellow Commissioners agree to go forward with this Commission while holding the County, the Mental Health Department, and the Sheriff publicly accountable for the deplorable and unacceptable conditions for both inmates and staff in our jails.

        I also hope that each and every one of you rethinks how you are treating Judge Cordell. She is a woman of integrity who is volunteering her time, and putting her reputation on the line to ensure that vital changes occur in the jails, so that no one else dies or is harmed in the jails.

        Kathleen Flynn
        Advocate for Families of Homicide and Victims of Violent Crime

  11. There is a little more to the jail issues. First, institutions like the Mercury News have decided to blame the victim for his own death by characterizing him as defiant, a demeaning label used by bullies on the least powerful people like black kids in elementary school and white men in jail. Second, the evidence around the rape crisis in the jail is probably linked to the victim’s demographics causing his outrage when being over-medicated.

    I hope the county will release all the forensic evidence about the victim to the public along with the rape kit and the drugs found in his tissues and blood at the time of his death. There will be a strong effort to disappear the victim because in Santa Clara County government circles at this time, “whites cannot be victims.”

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