San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Monday called for the resignation of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith amid multiple use-of-force incidents and alleged misconduct under her watch, and on Tuesday the sheriff responded by saying "no" she will not step down.
Liccardo held a news conference Monday detailing why he feels Smith's time in office must end. The mayor is the first elected official to call for the embattled sheriff's resignation.
“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."
Smith, 69, who is in her sixth term and is up for re-election in 2022, spoke Tuesday in response to the mayor, saying in part some of the information being sought by Liccardo and other officials is confidential and other requests for information are not considering the families of those inmates.
She also said later in Tuesday's briefing, "no" she was not going to resign.
In a news release Monday, Liccardo's office 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.
In regard to the investigations being sought, Smith said she supports those.
"Since there continues to be a lot of speculation and inferences, I welcome any and all investigations," she said during the Tuesday news conference. "It really is important to have experts provide an in-depth review of some of the things that have been stated so we can get the true facts."
Liccardo, a former criminal prosecutor with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and a former San Jose City Councilman, says the time for her to step down is long overdue.
"As a former deputy DA in this County, my experience with Sheriff Smith’s poor leadership of her department convinced me years ago to repeatedly decline to endorse her re-election," Liccardo's statement continued. "But Sheriff Smith’s repeated mismanagement of the jail has destroyed lives, violating the most basic of civil rights of its inmates, including: death of Michael Tyree in 2015; severe head injuries of Andrew Hogan in 2018; severe spinal injury of Martin Nunez in 2019; and
a seven-minute beating of a man by 31 other inmates in 2020."
Last week, county supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee released an agenda item on this week's Board of Supervisors meeting calling for the release of sheriff's office records related to incidents at county jails that left inmates dead or severely injured.
“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.”
County officials say the sheriff continues to withhold information on jail incidents from county supervisors, the board’s independent auditor, as well as the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring (OCLEM), the civilian oversight group formed in response to recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission assembled in the wake of Michael Tyree’s death.
As NBC Bay Area reported last month, OCLEM was never notified by the sheriff’s office when a police informant was beaten by 31 inmates at the jail for nearly six minutes. In a statement, the sheriff’s office told us in part, “[Jail staff] assigned to these posts are often responsible for multi-tasking and conducting other non-supervision duties, which typically occur out of eyesight of those incarcerated…” and added they hoped the victim received justice.
The supervisors are also calling for potential investigations from the state Attorney General's Office, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, and the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Smith’s management of the jail has been a point of controversy going back to at least 2015, when Tyree was beaten to death by three deputies, all of whom were found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
But recent controversies go beyond the jail. Smith's office has been embroiled in a controversy over pay-to-play allegations concerning concealed gun permits.
An NBC Bay Area investigation last year found donors to the Sheriff Smith's political coffers were about 14 times more likely to be approved for a concealed carry weapons (CCW) permit than those who did not donate.
Supervisor Simitian and Supervisor Otto Lee also raised questions about the promotion and overtime pay of former Sheriff's Captain Amy Le, who was the head of the correctional officers union that endorsed Smith for Sheriff in 2018 and raised $300,000 for her campaign.
Le denies the allegations and says her promotion was based on merit alone.
Liccardo's full statement released Monday:
“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. 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.
"I want to thank the County Supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee for their recent efforts to bring facts to light, as reflected in a memorandum that the Board will consider tomorrow. I support their recommendations, but those recommendations should not be necessary. Sheriff Smith must resign.
"As a former deputy DA in this County, my experience with Sheriff Smith’s poor leadership of her department convinced me years ago to repeatedly decline to endorse her reelection. But Sheriff Smith’s repeated mismanagement of the jail has destroyed lives, violating the most basic of civil rights of its inmates, including:
• Death of Michael Tyree in 2015
• Severe head injuries of Andrew Hogan in 2018
• Severe spinal injury of Martin Nunez in 2019
• A seven-minute beating of a man by 31 other inmates in 2020
"As a former criminal prosecutor, I believe in the necessity of jail detention to serve public safety. But in any civil society, the safety of the inmates themselves must also be protected, and they must not be condemned to some dystopian tenure in Hunger Games. Under Sheriff Smith’s leadership, the Sheriff’s Office has engaged in extensive efforts to conceal the facts around these and other incidents, most palpably by refusing to share information with the County Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, and the County Auditor.
"We have increasingly learned of these revelations from recent public documents. Additionally, I have recently learned that for several years, Sheriff Smith required officers from other cities’ police departments to extinguish their body-worn cameras when bringing combative arrestees into the County jail, thereby precluding any video evidence of potential abuses by corrections officers that might come from those external police departments. After repeated objections by local police chiefs, the Sheriff finally halted that mandate in June of this year.
"Moreover, Sheriff Smith has created a pay-to-play culture within the Office. Beyond the indictment of Sheriff Smith’s top assistants in a bribery scheme, Sheriff Smith also promoted the head of her deputies’ union to captain only one month after her 2018 re-election --and only after that union contributed $300,000 to her re-election. That same union leader saw her total compensation nearly double.
"Santa Clara County taxpayers--the majority of whom reside in my city of San Jose--have footed the bill for eight-figure payouts on civil lawsuits and $450 million in improvements to jail operations mandated by consent decrees responding to severe failures in Sheriff Smith’s management of the jail.
"The Mercury News editorial board has repeatedly called for Sheriff Smith’s resignation, attributing her behavior to “either corruption or incompetence”. Regardless of whether “corruption or incompetence” best explains Sheriff Smith's failures, either suffices to compel her resignation."