San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Monday called for the resignation of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith over allegations of poor jail management, lack of transparency and accountability, as well as several bribery and corruption scandals.
Liccardo joins a long list of local leaders who have criticized Smith.
Days before Liccardo’s announcement, County Supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee demanded an investigation into the sheriff’s office following millions of dollars in payouts to settle injury litigation from men in county custody.
“The jail has been the scene of a series of tragic and costly incidents, sometimes without explanation, and without apparent accountability,” a memo from Simitian and Lee read. “Answers are few and far between. And in the absence of greater transparency, the question of possible political influence looms large.”
Simitian and Lee also asked for the California Attorney General to investigate Smith’s leadership — a call that Liccardo agreed with.
“This is an enormous amount of resources, enormous amount of time, taxpayer money, that is being invested in investigating a series of leadership failures by this sheriff.”Mayor Sam Liccardo
“And I think it’s probably not a bad idea, frankly, for the U.S. attorney to take a look,” Liccardo said.
The pair of supervisors in their memo also called on the county to release all documents and video footage relating to the case of Andrew Hogan, a mentally-ill inmate who suffered a traumatic brain injury in August 2018 while being transferred from the Elmwood correctional facility to the Main Jail in San Jose, a five-mile trip.
He was suffering from psychiatric distress when placed in the back of a standard sheriff’s office van.
His arms and legs were restrained by shackles but he was not belted into his seat, which allowed him to batter his head against the metal grating until he fell unconscious, according to the Simitian/Lee memo.
Hogan was then left in the van while bleeding from his head for some time before being transferred to a hospital.
He was left incapable of caring for himself because of the brain injury and the county settled with Mr. Hogan and his family for $10 million.
A similar incident also occurred a year later in the case of Martin Nunez, who ran head-first into the metal door of his cell and injured his cervical spine while suffering from psychiatric distress.
In Nunez’s lawsuit against the county, which is still pending litigation, he details that he was left in his cell for an “extended period of time,” and then moved roughly by correctional officers, which exacerbated his spinal injuries.
And in 2015, mentally ill man Michael Tyree was beaten to death by three correctional officers while he spent the night in county jail. The officers were convicted, and the county settled his family’s excessive force claims for $3.6 million.
On top of money spent on settlements, Liccardo pointed to the nearly $450 million invested by the county to improve jail conditions.
“Sheriff Smith’s repeated mismanagement of the jail, particularly as evidenced by horrible incidents in recent years, has destroyed lives and violated the most basic civil rights,” Liccardo said. “This is an enormous amount of resources, enormous amount of time, taxpayer money, that is being invested in investigating a series of leadership failures by this sheriff.”
Liccardo also pointed to Smith’s troubling mandate that required officers from different police departments to turn off body-worn cameras when booking certain people into custody.
“After repeated objections from local police chiefs, Sheriff finally halted that mandate in June of this year,” the South Bay mayor said.
He also pointed to two scandals: a bribery criminal investigation that led to indictments of Smith’s top aides and a campaign fundraiser and a pay-to-play scandal involving $300,000 in union contributions for Smith’s 2018 re-election.
Calls to step down
Smith invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, declining to cooperate with the grand jury investigation of her own staff over bribery charges related to her re-election.
“When the top law enforcement officer in the county refuses to cooperate with a bribery investigation for fear of incriminating herself, the time for concern is long past — Sheriff Smith must step down,” Liccardo said in a statement.
He continued that Smith, who has been sheriff for 23 years, “would do the public a great favor by simply resigning,” and hopes other local leaders will join him in this call.
The sheriff did not respond to a request for comment from Bay City News but planned a news conference Tuesday to comment on the Simitian/Lee memo and provide “an update of accuracy,” according to a press release sent out Monday afternoon.
County supervisors will vote on whether to move forward with an investigation into the sheriff’s office and release documents related to Hogan’s case on Tuesday. The Board of Supervisors meeting will start at 9:30 a.m. and can be watched live on the county’s meeting agenda portal, YouTube channel, via Zoom or call 669-900-6833, meeting ID 96612349693# (participant ID not required).