San Jose’s police union announced Tuesday that it pulled its endorsement of retired Santa Clara County Undersheriff John Hirokawa’s campaign to unseat his former boss, Sheriff Laurie Smith, in November’s general election.
The San Jose Police Officers’ Association (POA) said Hirokawa failed to denounce officers involved in a texting scandal—including Don Morrissey the embattled president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (DSA) that bankrolled his campaign—until they became a political liability. POA members voted to remain neutral in the sheriff’s race.
Losing the POA’s support is the latest blow to Hirokawa, who recently came under fire for his association with Morrissey after San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley exposed the extent of the union president’s involvement in thousands of homophobic, racist and sexist texts exchanged in 2014 and 2015.
The texting investigation coincided with another headline-grabbing scandal in 2015: the murder of inmate Michael Tyree at the hands of three jail deputies. Smith and Hirokawa faced unprecedented scrutiny as the two highest-ranking officials at the troubled agency.
Now, as political foes, they have to answer to voters about their role in the dysfunction and how they responded. Hirokawa has criticized Smith for a lack of transparency and resisting reforms, while the sheriff has slammed her former second-in-command for failing to act decisively during the crisis and trying to evade accountability.
Hirokawa until recently maintained that he had no idea which texts Morrissey read or personally sent and that even before his retirement in 2016, he passed up chances to read them for fear of violating the privacy rights of the officers.
Only after San Jose Inside/Metro reported last month on the February arbitration ruling upholding Morrissey’s demotion—his second since 2012, when he fell from lieutenant to sergeant for admittedly browsing porn at work—did Hirokawa call for him to step down as DSA president. Morrissey to date has refused to resign and instead sent out a message to members defending his actions.
The state’s largest law enforcement organization, the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) forced Morrissey to step down from his post as secretary of the statewide organization last month. But the group, which represents more than 70,000 police officers, has yet to publicly address its support for Hirokawa.
Lt. Amy Le, president of the local Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, which represents jail deputies and endorsed Smith for a sixth term, has been urging PORAC to reconsider its stance in the sheriff’s race. In an email to PORAC President Brian Marvel, Le notified him of the San Jose POA’s decision this week and urged him to reconsider its own endorsement “in the interest of justice and to rebuild public trust.”
“Working in law enforcement is a privilege, not a right,” she wrote. “As a law enforcement officer, we are held to a higher standard on and off duty.”