Embattled Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith plans to retire
SAN JOSE, Calif. - After nearly a half-century on in law enforcement, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said Friday she’s had enough.
There's won't be a re-election for the county's top cop as she wants to retire.
There will be retirement, not re-election, for this county’s top cop.
"I really owe it to the residents of Santa Clara County not to have this kind of drama ongoing," said Smith as she sat in her fourth-floor office. "They deserve to have a leader in this position that doesn’t have accusations against them."
Accusations of corruption and criminal misconduct led a civil grand jury last year to indict Smith. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has sought the ouster of the longest currently tenured California sheriff.
"Sheriff smith must resign," he said on Aug. 16, 2021.
Some members of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors have been catalysts for a state investigation. They’ve also demanded more transparency from the sheriff’s office.
"Vilified? Absolutely. I really think it’s an abuse of power," said Smith in response to the move.
Forty-nine years ago, a fresh-faced Smith started her career at the sheriff’s office. She was barely 20 at the time.
"My title was deputy sheriff matron. That was the only job a woman could apply for," she said while looking at an old personnel photo from that time.
It was a time when women wore skirts and were paid 15% less than their male counterparts. Smith led a lawsuit to change that.
Decades later, Smith became the first woman elected sheriff in California in 1998. She touts successes, such as capturing Sierra LaMar’s killer in 2012 and her deputies confronting a gunman in May 2021, during the worst mass shooting in Bay Area history.
"The public demands public safety. That’s what I’m gonna provide," said Smith.
But in recent years, scandals and multi-million dollar settlements have mounted.
The case of jail deputies beating Michael Tyree to death is one example. Another is Andrew Hogan’s brain damage due to a lack of deputy supervision.
There is also alleged corruption related to the sheriff’s issuance of concealed carry permits.
"I know the facts. And I believe when the process is over, I will be absolutely exonerated of everything," Smith said in response to the allegations made against her.
Some critics are cheering Smith’s decision to exit next year.
"This county deserves a sheriff who has the highest integrity," wrote District Attorney Jeff Rosen in an email to KTVU.
"This is an opportunity for new beginnings…We’ve got to keep the public safe and reform the system" explained District 5 Supervisor Joe Simitian in an email to KTVU.
"Perhaps she has outlived her usefulness of this very large, very old, agency," said Greg Woods, a professor in the San Jose State University Dept. of Justice Studies.
The sheriff said she’s leaving on her terms and is excited about the next chapter of her life. She’s hopeful the slings and arrows she’s suffered won’t harm the office she’s led for nearly a quarter-century.
"In the long run, we’ll see the truth," she said.