A Santa Clara County civil grand jury accused Sheriff Laurie Smith of corruption, with formal accusations filed Tuesday in court.
The sheriff is accused of multiple counts of “willful and corrupt misconduct in office.” Six of the seven counts are connected to allegations of trading coveted concealed weapons permits for contributions to her re-election campaigns.
The accusations include:
- Trading concealed carry weapons permits, or CCWs, for campaign donations
- Unfair CCW consideration for non-VIPs
- Failing to provide non-VIPs timely notice of their applications
- Accepting gifts in excess of $500 – which included San Jose Sharks suite tickets from an applicant
- Failing to report that gift
- Perjury for omitting that gift from financial forms
- Failing to cooperate with the investigation into an inmate injured during transfer
That last one ended in a $10 million settlement between the county and the inmate's family.
“Charges like these can’t help but undermine the public’s trust in law enforcement and in public institutions in general,” county Supervisor Joe Simitian said. “I think that’s a tragic consequence of the whole affair, but mostly it’s sad that it came to this.”
County supervisors unanimously gave the sheriff a vote of no confidence in August after years of incidents at the county’s jails, which Smith oversees.
“The matter now is with the courts, and we’ll see how it plays out over the next year,” Simitian said.
Because this comes from a civil grand jury, Smith has not been accused of a crime. But she’s due in court Jan. 12 to answer to the allegations. If she disputes them, the case would be heard in front of a jury, and ultimately she could be removed from office.
“It's a combination in a way of a civil trial, a criminal trial, and it’s our substitute here in California for impeachment proceedings,” said legal analyst Dean Johnson. “Like an impeachment proceeding, if there’s a conviction, the remedy is removal from office, and that’s all the court can impose.”
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen has recused himself in the case, which lawyers say is common practice. So San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin and his office will prosecute the case.
Rosen provided the following statement in response to the civil grand jury report: "It's a sad day for Santa Clara County and for the women and men who proudly wear the badge."
NBC Bay Area reached out to the sheriff’s office Tuesday, but it had no comment.