The view of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean from 1,400 feet, just peeking over top of the nearby ridge of the Diablo Mountain Range, sounds like an idyllic Friday night of adventure or schmoozing.
Someone enjoyed that scenery June 25, onboard Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith’s N621LS “Star1” helicopter—representing her initials and birthdate—on a one-hour and 46-minute flight circling above Saratoga, Cupertino and the Lexington Reservoir from 7:23pm to 9:06pm, conveniently in time for the 8:30pm sunset that evening.
The circuitous route around the South Bay didn’t mirror any typical patrols along busy development corridors or responses to calls of service beelining from takeoff to landing, all etched onto FlightAware, a publicly viable aircraft tracking app.
It’s unclear whether it was business as usual policing, a Sheriff’s Office Youth Cadet Program ride along or something else entirely; The Sheriff’s Office took the full 20 days legally allotted to answer simple questions about its flight logs. The first response attempted to dodge revealing any information at all, claiming files were off limits. Follow-ups uncovered (contradictory) info for two service calls—a man down on a trail and boats stuck in Alviso’s mud—but deputies did not provide official passenger logs.
That’s not unusual; county attorneys started drafting subpoena policies after Sheriff Smith refused to release records to an independent civilian watchdog group looking into use-of-force trends, misconduct allegations, public complaints and inmate grievances. Smith claims access to the documents would obstruct her office's investigative functions.
Without answers, public watchdogs can only speculate as to whether the ultrasecret copter mission was in any way linked to the lovefest between the Sheriff’s team and the outgoing city manager of Sheriff’s-Office-contract-city Cupertino, whose going away party was that same day?
Or maybe it was just a coincidence?
Update: Sheriff Laurie Smith contacted San Jose Inside after this story went to press, confirming there was no sight seeing tour taken June 25, and the only people on board were the pilot and an observer. She offered to open up any flight logs necessary to set the record straight.