Santa Clara County May Place Jails Under Civilian Oversight

Two years after Michael Tyree’s murder at the hands of his jailers, Santa Clara County has yet to put its correctional arm under civilian oversight. County Supervisor Joe Simitian on Wednesday announced a proposal to finally establish an Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Oversight.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the plan when it meets Tuesday.

Simitian’s oversight concept echoes a recommendation from a Blue Ribbon Commission convened in response to Tyree’s fatal beating, which led to second-degree murder convictions in June for his jailers—Rafael Rodriquez, Jereh Lubrin and Matthew Farris.

“Meaningful oversight is an essential component of the reform effort that has been under way for the past two years,” Simitian said in a prepared statement. “It’s time to take the policy discussions we’ve had and turn them into tangible change.”

The oversight office would model itself after the one in Los Angeles County, which monitors both custody and patrol officers and takes complaints from the public. Though he’s still in the early planning stages, Simitian wants to see the local oversight division not only investigate complaints against the Sheriff’s Office, but also to analyze policy, conduct public outreach, provide mediation and offer guidance on how to improve.

“The Blue Ribbon Commission made it clear that establishing an office to provide meaningful civilian oversight was one of their most important recommendations; in fact, one of their two highest priorities” Simitian said. “Now it’s our responsibility to follow through, and turn that recommendation into real, lasting change.”

Simitian’s ordinance also calls for a Citizens’ Oversight Committee to make sure that the public remains involved in jail oversight. Though he has a pretty firm idea of what the new oversight body would look like, Simitian said the details have yet to be hashed out.

“This is a first draft, not a final draft,” he said. “However, given the importance of this issue both within the county and to the larger community, I believe that this is a task that benefits from as much sunlight as possible.”

In the year after Tyree’s death, the blue ribbon task force pitched more than 600 reform ideas to overhaul the county’s troubled jails. Since the commission disbanded, the Sheriff’s Office has worked on implementing “the vast majority” of the recommendations, according to the county.

Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted Simitian to double down on the push for stronger police oversight in the South Bay.

“I asked myself, ‘What can we do to make sure we never have a Ferguson here in Santa Clara County?’” he said.

The answer came in a series of mandates by the Board of Supervisors: body cameras for all sheriff’s deputies as well as training to help officers recognize their own biases.

The missing ingredient, Simitian said, is “meaningful civilian oversight.”

“This is a challenging endeavor,” he added. “Getting it right takes great care. We have to keep the public safe, and protect their due process rights. We have to keep our officers safe, and protect their due process rights. And we have to build and maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement, which is in everybody’s interest.”

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for September 12, 2017:

  • A low-income Milpitas apartment complex that’s slated for the wrecking ball next spring is expected to displace roughly 500 people. County supervisors will talk about how to help tenants of the 171-unit Sunnyhills Apartments, which is under contract with the feds to keep most of its units reserved for tenants with rent subsidies. Sunnyhills owners JMK Investments announced earlier this year that they plan to raze the complex to make way for new market-rate development. To prevent mass displacement, the Milpitas City Council put a temporary freeze on affordable-to-market-rate housing conversions until it figures out how to deal with Sunnyhills. “Historically, there has been a disparity between the number of Section 8 vouchers and the supply,” Supervisor Dave Cortese wrote in a memo. “It is crucial for Santa Clara County to reach out to its cities to find ways in which the supply of Section 8 housing can be increased.” The situation at Sunnyhills is similar to what happened to as many as 700 residents of The Reserve, a west San Jose apartment complex, which appeared to be the largest mass eviction in the region—and possibly the state.
  • By law, every county must have a designated “resource and referral” agency for subsidized child care. In the South Bay, that agency is the Community Child Care Council of Santa Clara County (aka 4Cs). Unfortunately for the thousands of low-income families that rely on its services, the $45 million-a-year taxpayer funded nonprofit is in the thick of five separate audits prompted by allegations of mismanagement. As a result, the county is looking ways to replace the troubled 4Cs, which would require putting the contract out for bid or having the county’s Social Services Agency take on the responsibility. In California, all such child care referral contracts are handled by nonprofits or offices of education. None are managed by county governments, which would make this a first in the whole state.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9:30am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.299.5001

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


  1. Michael Brown died because he robbed a convenience store, jaywalked and attacked a police officer.

    NOT because there was lack of police oversight. Not because of racism, not because of lacking transparency nor any other such malarkey. His hands were not up.

    Why does the media propagate lies that have been proven as such? Why does a supposedly smart and capable Supervisor like Simitian keep lying to his constituents?

    If ineptitude by Laurie Smith justifies taking away some of her responsibilities, so be it- but don’t conflate Michael Browns crimes and the subsequent rioting based on media lies with what happened in our jail.

    • > Why does a supposedly smart and capable Supervisor like Simitian keep lying to his constituents?

      An excellent question.

      And this example answers your question: BECAUSE FAKE NEWS DRIVES PUBLIC POLICY!

      In other words, fake news helps progressives achieve what they want to achieve, which is to maximize state control and THEIR power.

      Fake news works.

  2. What makes you think another overpaid panel of blue ribbon bureaucrats can fix an institution the was designed to fail in the first place. First thing you need to do is build a nut house and separate the nuts from the criminals. Then we need to have a serious discussion about what is a crime and what laws if any you plan to enforce!

    For some reason Jenifer, you seem to take the side of anarchy, and this should be the law of the land?

  3. Were I intent on establishing my credentials as a scumbag, who might better mentor me than Joe Simitian? Citing Ferguson as a justification for police reform? Why doesn’t he just name Tawana Brawley to head his new commission? Or impanel all 88 of those Duke University professors who couldn’t wait for an investigation before condemning the falsely-accused lacrosse players for their racism and white privilege?

    I’m not sure where in Palo Alto this snake-in-the-grass calls home, but I’ll bet there are no gentle giants in his neighborhood. I wonder what kind of avoid-the-humane-garbage premium he paid for his little piece of privileged real estate?

    And what kind of coward calls for outside supervision of the jails and deputies without publicly condemning the sheriff in charge of both? If he thinks Laurie Smith is incompetent he should say it. But to strip an elected office of its authority, as he recommends, sounds more like a hostile takeover than reform. Plus, what are we paying a sheriff for if not run the jails and the law enforcement division?

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