Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith spoke at an interfaith gathering in Los Gatos on Friday to address the racist text message scandal hanging over her agency, repeating what she’s already said: That she’ll fire the guards who allegedly sent them and what they said was "repugnant."
"I really want to hear the input from the public," Smith said. "I want to make small changes and large changes."
But people in the crowd, which included priests, rabbis, chaplains, activists and community members, were skeptical.
"I didn’t hear any ideas that will make a change," said Michelle Osborne of Sunnyvale.
Brad Gordon of Los Gatos said he needed to see actions "rather than just words."
And Raj Jayadev of Silicon Valley De-Bug said he wanted to form his own opinions once the "full revelations of all the text messages" are released, which Smith said she wanted to do but was constrained by law.
Smith spoke at the Los Gatos Jewish Community Center hosted by the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, amid religious leaders who were critical of news first reported by the Mercury News, which uncovered some correctional deputies had texted anti-black and anti-Jewish texts. One pastor prayed for "healing" and for the officers whose "souls are darkened by racism and bigotry, help us erase the texts of division and hatred and replace them with texts of love and compassion."
Smith told the crowd of about 60 that less than ten jail guards exchanged racist texts that she called "repugnant" and "vile." Her office hired the law firm headed by former Oakland police chief Howard Jordan to investigate who sent the texts, and already one guard has been placed on administrative leave.
Several people in the audience were critical of what's going on in the jail and questioned the sheriff directly on what's being done to fix what they see is an overall cultural problem. She acknowledged that there are "two cultures" in her agency: The traditional sheriff’s deputies, and the officers who guard the jail. She said better hiring standards and even psychological evaluations should be looked at in terms of the jail.
Smith said she is in process of hiring more people to help inmates with mental health and substance abuse issues. And she’s already established a Blue-Ribbon panel to come up with other solutions. She also said the minority of guards don’t represent the 1,000 other good workers in her department.