After 3 multi-million dollar settlements, Santa Clara County will report future settlements to the public

Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to be more transparent about large settlements involving the County. The decision was made after a report revealed how one man was paralyzed while in the County’s custody and then awarded $7 million.  

In the last eight years, Santa Clara County has paid out about $20 million to settle cases because someone was hurt or died while in custody. Now the Board hopes reporting the settlements will bring about more transparency and accountability. 

"We’ve got an obligation in my view, to be as candid and forthcoming as we possibly can be, when the system doesn’t serve the public well," said Joe Simitian, Santa Clara County Board Supervisor, 5th District. 

After reviewing a case of negligence recently settled for $7 million, Santa Clara County Board Supervisors all agreed that the County will publicly report any settlement over a million dollars on a quarterly basis. Board Supervisor Joe Simitian says since 2015, the County has spent millions settling cases. 

"We had three really tragic cases in our jail. In one case, we had an inmate who lost his life. In another someone who was left brain-damaged for life and in the third case, someone who’s paralyzed for life. That resulted in $20 million worth of settlements. Those are lives that can never be made whole again," said Simitian.  

So far this year, the Medical Examiner reports three people have died while in custody at Santa Clara County Jail. All cases involving a death while in County jail are investigated by the District Attorney’s Office. Still, activists say there needs to be more protection for people, especially the mentally ill, while they’re in custody. 

"For folks with mental health needs, there just has to be a different way on how we handle those things instead of using the old ways and old systems and just incarcerated them, because obviously it’s not making our community safer like some may think," said Jose Valle, a community activist with DeBug Silicon Valley. 

Simitian says as the Bay Area struggles to recover from the pandemic, eradicate homelessness and build more affordable housing, taxpayers should know how they’re money is being used.  

"So I want to make sure that we hold the system accountable and that folks know that there is a consequence, even if it’s just public awareness for the kind of conduct that people are concerned about, and then I want to make sure that we do everything we can to avoid costly litigation because those are taxpayers’ dollars that can’t be spent serving the public. It’s just that simple," Simitian said. 

In response to the report the Board reviewed Tuesday, the new Sheriff of Santa Clara County says he looks forward to implementing any recommendations and to further improve the Corrections unit.  


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