Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office

California's Top Cop to Probe Troubled Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office

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California’s attorney general announced Wednesday a civil rights investigation into the office of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, a polarizing figure who is fighting formal public corruption accusations.

Attorney General Rob Bonta said the investigation will seek to determine whether the sheriff’s office “has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct” amid a number of serious allegations. The sheriff’s office has had to pay costly settlements to people who are mentally ill who were severely injured while in jail custody.

A news release from Bonta’s office explained that a civil “pattern or practice” investigation into the office usually works to identify and compel, if appropriate, corrective action to fix systemic violations.

Sheriff Smith has led the office since winning election in 1998. She has not said whether she will run again this year.

In December, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury accused Smith of political favoritism through concealed-carry weapons permits and resisting an audit into negligence allegations.

She did not enter a plea in court last week.

Smith objected to a vote of no-confidence taken by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors last year, saying they are blaming her after failing to provide safety-net services for mentally ill people.

Smith provided the following statement Wednesday to NBC Bay Area:

"I have always welcomed any external review of the Sheriff’s Office and we will immediately open all records. I have great confidence in the Attorney General’s Office and I believe they will provide the expertise for a fair and impartial investigation. We remain focused on our mission, which is to continue to provide the highest level of public safety services."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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