An investigation into a 2018 case of a man who severely injured himself while being transported between jails in Santa Clara County may have been closed prematurely to protect officials in the county sheriff's office, according to a report by the county's law enforcement oversight group.
The report by the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement concerns the treatment by Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputies of Andrew Hogan, who repeatedly struck his head against the wall of a van that was being used to transport him from the Elmwood jail in Milpitas to the county's Main Jail in San Jose in August of 2018.
Hogan, a mentally ill man who was left permanently disabled due to injuries sustained in the transport van, was not restrained in the van and, according to reports and video released by the county, called for help inside the blood-stained van before becoming unconscious. He was also not provided care for 30-40 minutes after arriving at the Main Jail.
The county Sheriff's Office ultimately paid a $10 million settlement to Hogan as a result of the case.
The final report, detailed to the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday, outlined that an internal affairs investigation launched in September 2018 was closed less than one month after the re-election of Sheriff Laurie Smith.
According to OCLEM Project Manager Michael Gennaco, Sheriff's Lt. Amy Le was the watch commander during Hogan's transportation and self-harm.
Nine days after Le was promoted to captain following Smith's re-election, according to the report, then-Undersheriff Rick Sung ordered the closure of the internal affairs investigation.
Sung, according to Gennaco, provided no stated reason for the investigation's closure. As such, the OCLEM investigation considered the circumstantial evidence surrounding Smith's re-election win and Le's promotion as a possible reason why the investigation was closed.
“Certainly, the natural inference that can be drawn here is that the support that ... Capt. Le provided to the sheriff in her re-election campaign, the fact that she had been promoted to a higher position and command staff was likely a factor in the decision to close down the investigation,” Gennaco told the board.
Gennaco went on to suggest that ‘If, in fact, our inferences are the most reasonable inferences to be drawn from the facts as we know them,” the sheriff's office sought to avoid accountability from an internal investigation for Hogan's injuries.
Both Smith and Sung declined to cooperate with the OCLEM investigation and, according to Gennaco, officials in the Sheriff's Office did not maintain and provide a trail of documents about the internal affairs investigation and its closure.
According to the report, however, Smith was at least aware that the investigation had been closed and was supportive, although there is no evidence that she knew that it would be closed beforehand.
The Sheriff's Office did not return a request for comment.
Supervisor Joe Simitian argued that the alleged breakdown of the internal affairs points to a complete inability to both hold officials accountable for misconduct and improve the law enforcement system as a whole.
“The conduct that you have reported to our board is absolutely unconscionable,” Simitian said to Gennaco. “It's appalling, and I don't know how we can ever hope to attract good people to a department that accepts and, in fact, normalizes such shameful conduct.”
“If we don't have an internal affairs process that works, we end up with a system that is truly unworthy of the public's trust,” Simitian added. “And that's a trust that is essential to a functioning and effective system of law enforcement.”
Simitian noted that Sung is still technically a member of the Sheriff's Office and has been on paid leave with benefits since December of 2020, when he was indicted in a separate case involving the Sheriff's Office allegedly trading gun permits for political campaign donations.
Since being placed on leave, Sung has received an estimate of nearly $1 million in salary and benefits.
Simitian and Supervisor Otto Lee expressed a desire to potentially require the Sheriff's Office to comply with the recommendations in the report, which include maintaining the health of inmates being transferred between facilities and establishing a paper trail explaining the termination of any internal investigation.
However, according to County Counsel James Williams, the board is likely limited in its ability to compel the Sheriff's Office to enact policy, as the office generally sets its own.
“At what point do people say, ‘This shocks the conscience, enough,’ “ Simitian said. “And I think we are long past that point.”
Eli Walsh is a reporter with Bay City News.