Santa Clara County Supervisors Want Feds to Investigate Sheriff, She Says ‘Bring It On’

Santa Clara County Supervisors this afternoon voted unanimously to ask the U.S. Justice Department, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the county civil grand jury and its own county counsel to investigate Sheriff Laurie Smith, her department and the county jail for possible violation of state and federal laws.

The supervisors’ action came one day after San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called on Smith to resign immediately in the face of recent scandals and lawsuits. Smith said Monday she would not resign.

Four hours ahead of the supervisors’ Aug. 17 vote, Smith read a prepared statement at a morning press conference in which she welcomed all investigations of her and her office, and she added the FBI to the list of investigative agencies. In presenting his resolution at the board meeting, Supervisor Joe Simitian added the Justice Department to his list of agencies whose investigations of Smith the county will seek.

The supervisors stopped short of calling for Smith’s resignation.

This week’s bombshells ensured that Smith and the treatment of jail inmates plus related criminal justice issues will be in the spotlight in the 2022 elections.

Liccardo is termed out and Supervisor Cindy Chavez, a former city council member, is one of several mayoral hopefuls. District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who won murder convictions against three jailers in 2016 for the 2015 killing of inmate Michael Tyree, is seeking re-election.

Smith, 69,  was elected to a sixth term in 2018 when the jail was a top campaign issue, and has not said whether she will seek re-election.

“I want to make it very clear that I support all of the investigations,” Smith said this morning. “I am fully prepared to move forward and since there continues to be a lot of speculation and certainly inferences, I welcome any and all investigations. It really is important to have experts providing an in-depth review of some of the things that have been stated, so we can get the true facts.”

This won’t be the first investigation of the operations of the jail, which Smith took over responsibility for in 2010. Both the FBI and a local Blue Ribbon Commission, as well as Rosen’s criminal probe, conducted investigations after the 2015 killing of Tyree, who suffered from mental illness.

Simitian, who co-sponsored the county resolution with Supervisor Otto Lee, told the board today he was prompted by “a very disturbing pattern of behavior, raising questions about the apparent lack of accountability and the potential for undue political influence.”

“It is our responsibility to provide oversight,” Simitian said.

Smith also spoke briefly to the board before the vote. “We have got to know the true facts,” she said, repeating her support for the new investigations of her performance.

Supervisors indicated that today’s discussion likely will prompt a new debate over possible changes in the administration of the main jail in downtown San Jose, where conditions are strained because of overcrowding and court dockets stalled by COVID-19.

Some of the approximately 20 speakers before the vote called for the county to reconsider plans to expand the South County Jail in Morgan Hill, and use the money to expand mental health services. Representatives of the Care First, Jails Last Coalition said they would continue to press for alternatives to incarceration for the mentally ill and for those who cannot afford bail on misdemeanor charges.

In a news release Monday, Liccardo said, “During the past six years of Smith’s 23-year tenure as sheriff, the county has endured: repeated severe beatings of inmates resulting in death and serious injury; repeated concealment of facts relating to those incidents and persistent noncompliance with independent oversight; tens of millions of taxpayer dollars paid to litigants for civil rights violations by deputies; two consent decrees resulting in $450 million in public expenditure to improve jail operations and conditions; an ongoing bribery criminal investigation which has resulted in three indictments of two of her top aides and a campaign fundraiser; and a play-to-pay scandal relating to $300,000 in union contributions for her 2018 re-election.”

“When a grand jury indicts the sheriff’s top assistants and campaign fundraiser on bribery charges relating to contributions to her own re-election efforts, we should have serious concerns," Liccardo said in a statement. "But when that same sheriff, the top law enforcement officer in the county, then refuses to cooperate with the bribery investigation for fear of incriminating herself, the time for concern is long past. Sheriff Smith must resign."

In her press conference, Smith made no reference to Liccardo’s call for his resignation or his reasons for the unprecedented move. Liccardo is a former assistant district attorney and city councilman.

The supervisors voted to request that County Counsel James WIlliams release a Feb. 10, 19-page report plus 38 audio/video recordings relating to the case of Andrew Hogan, whose family settled a lawsuit with the county for $10 million. Hogan was a mentally ill man who was severely disabled after repeatedly injuring himself while riding unrestrained in a jail transport van.

A comparable or larger settlement looms in another case. Juan Martin Nunez alleges he became quadriplegic after deputies and paramedics failed to take action when he suffered a fall in his jail cell. The county paid a $3.6 million settlement to Tyree’s family in the 2015 jail death.

The supervisors also today voted to direct the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring (OCLEM) to “review, assess, describe, comment, and make recommendations on the issue of disciplinary action and/or lack thereof (to the maximum extent allowed by law), undertaken by the Sheriff's Office in connection with the Hogan case.”

County staff were directed to pass along any new information to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for possible violation of state statutes, and also to the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury for evaluation of possible “misconduct in office” by Smith.

The Justice Department investigation will seek to identify possible “unconstitutional corrections conduct and/or civil rights violations and/or other violations of state or federal law.”

“We can't just keep going along business as usual and expect that things are going to get better,” Simitian said. “It has been six years since a mentally ill man was murdered in our jails. And yet the tragedies keep coming.”

Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. Another reason to Vote YES to RECALL Elitists like Crooked Gavin Newsom.
    “Gov. Newsom RELEASING 63,000 VIOLENT FELONS Back Onto CA Streets to Create ‘Safer Prisons’”
    Why do Criminals have more rights than the TaxPaying Productive Residents of CA and the Bay Area?

    Thanks to DEM Policies and Liberal Judges All Manners of Criminals are promptly released as soon as they are arrested to continue acts of Violence and Criminal Activity in the community.

    The ZERO Dollar Bail Stupidity was scheduled to expire on 20 June 2021…

    “The Santa Clara County Superior Court Bench has voted to EXTEND the emergency ZERO BAIL schedule until January 31, 2022…”
    “The court voted Tuesday to issue the $0 bail schedule extension;
    Presiding Judge Theodore C. Zayner signed the order requiring bail be set at $0 for ALL Misdemeanor and ALL FELONY Offenses, with exceptions for specific offenses listed in the order.”

  2. “the top law enforcement officer in the county, then refuses to cooperate with the bribery investigation for fear of incriminating herself, the time for concern is long past…” — Sam Liccardo

    The “time’ for concern? The “time” was a year ago when Smith took the fifth, which makes it very clear that what it is really “time” for is for the dismal Sam Liccardo to elevate his name, grasp at a piece of low-hanging integrity, and hope everyone forgets his gross negligence in managing this city.

  3. NO BAIL? EARLY RELEASE for Psychopaths? Vagrants & criminals walking into stores – looting bags of merchandise? CA Politicians are FAILING to Keep Citizens Safe.
    “Gov. Newsom Allows PAROLE For Man Who BURIED Victim ALIVE…”
    Newsom is accused of siding with criminals: “The man who tortured and murdered a mentally disabled young man goes free while his family is forced to relive the horror.”

    “Weidert received a LIFE Sentence for killing 20yr old Fresno resident Michael Morganti in 1980 to cover up a $500 burglary.”

    “Newsom blocked Weidert’s parole last year, saying then that he
    “currently poses an UNREASONABLE DANGER to society if released from prison at this time.”
    FmrGov. Jerry Brown similarly reversed release recommendations for Weidert in 2016 and 2018.

    “Newsom, a Democrat, faces a RECALL ELECTION …opponents have criticized his emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation amid a 31% INCREASE in HOMICIDES in CA in the past year.

  4. “Santa Clara County Supervisors this afternoon voted unanimously to ask the U.S. Justice Department, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the county civil grand jury and its own county counsel to investigate Sheriff Laurie Smith, her department and the county jail for possible violation of state and federal laws.”

    Typical, they aren’t doing an investigation themselves. Then, in addition to appealing to Sacramento, the proper other party, they inappropriately look to the federal government directly as well. Do they want the latter, to use words that have made American shudder with politicized Dem administrations before, to “open a federal civil rights investigation”? (Even in valid cases Americans are wary.)

    Where is the county grand jury, unless little will be done, as with the VTA?

  5. My friend, Charles Anthony Reyes was killed while in jail. They told us that he fell from his bunk. He suffered fatal injuries.


  7. VirgilS,
    Do you have a “Bubble” container large enough to protect one fragile participant while he travels in the dangerous COVID laced “outside” environment? ..Will you supply the hand sanitizer bath and misting set?
    How would this work when 1 person is wearing 2 sets of rubber gloves, 3 masks to talk through, and a Severely Fogged up whole-head encompassing face-shield and glasses.

    I don’t see it coming to fruition.. maybe if you make the option to “pay” in paper-towels and toilet paper rolls?

  8. Interesting that Smith says, “I support all of the investigations,” yet she has refused to participate in, and actively blocked, previous investigations. If Smith does step down or is fired, doesn’t she have layers and layers of cronies ready to step in? What would change?


    Don’t you realize that by writing about bubble containers for fragile participants you all but guaranteed Steven will be having nightmares again?

    Oops. I think I failed to stick to the topic. Steven, feel free to penalize me one demerit.

  10. This Sheriff has turned a blind eye to ongoing systemic corruption. Recall how evidence went missing in the Brock Turner case by Stanford Public Safety Dept., an arm of the Sheriff’s Dept.

    Seems to me he should be following his own advice.

  12. Yes, but the FBI is a spy agency. We need a criminal investigation. In the absence of a Federal investigative agency CA should step up and create a state level agency that has the competence to investigate banks, insurance companies and difficult crimes. And do it now before the corruption overtakes CA.

  13. “Recall how evidence went missing in the Brock Turner case by Stanford Public Safety Dept., an arm of the Sheriff’s Dept.”

    This seems like two falsehoods at once. Stanford PD is independent of the Sheriff’s Office and there was no missing evidence. The victim was blotto. Two Scandinavian grad students apprehended Brock Turner and stayed at the scene until Stanford PD arrived.

    Also, anyone thinking local DAs can’t prosecute local LEOs might consider San Francisco DA George Gascon and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

  14. Wait, we have supervisors in Santa Clara County? I hadn’t heard anything from any of them since the beginning of covid 2 years ago. Are they coming out of hiding now? If so, why? I liked it better when they were invisible.

  15. Is the corruption referred to regarding the CCW (Concealed Carry Weapons) permit that showed you had about an 85% chance of getting concealed carry permit if your contributed to her campaign, but otherwise, only a 5% chance???

  16. 2016 My son Ernest Jordan was in custody at Main Jail two inmates stabbing my son over and over and officer’s on duty refused to help my son Ernest Jordan . officer standing watching inmates stabbing my son. We need Justice ASAP. SANTA Clara County is the worst and so corrupted.

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