Santa Clara County

Civil Grand Jury Examining Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office: Sources

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The troubles keep mounting for Santa Clara County's embattled sheriff.

NBC Bay Area has learned a civil grand jury has been empaneled to look into the office of Sheriff Laurie Smith and how the department is being run.

Sources tell NBC Bay Area the civil grand jury met for the first time on Wednesday and issued subpoenas for a number of people to testify about the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.

Some of the sheriff's top brass have already been indicted by a criminal grand jury. Now, the civil grand jury is taking a look at the sheriff's office.

"In a civil grand jury, you're investigating a government agency. A county or city agency to make sure they're doing their job the way they should be doing it," said Jaime Leanos, a legal analyst.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors made the recommendation for a civil grand jury in August after issuing a vote of no confidence on Smith.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit at the time had just broke the story of a surveillance video that captured a police informant being severely beaten by other inmates in a jail dormitory -- the latest of several violent incidents in the jail.

In addition, the criminal grand jury was already returning indictments from its investigation into sheriff's officials allegedly exchanging concealed gun permits for campaign donations.

The sheriff exercised her Fifth Amendment right not to testify during those proceedings. Some of her indicted top brass pled not guilty and are awaiting trial.

"This is just another issue that's been raised," Leanos said. "And looks like it's going to be addressed by the civil grand jury."

Leanos said the civil grand jury cannot file criminal charges, but only make advisory recommendations on how to better run the office. The sheriff will have to respond to those findings in writing.

"It carries some teeth, but not a lot of teeth," Leanos said. "They're basically recommendations that may or may not be followed."

NBC Bay Area has reached out to the sheriff for comment or a statement on this story, but did not hear back as of Friday afternoon.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has called for the resignation of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith amid multiple use-of-force incidents and alleged misconduct under her watch, according to a news release Monday morning.
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