San Jose mayor calls for resignation of Santa Clara County sheriff citing myriad of problems

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Monday called for the resignation of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, whom he says has overseen a myriad of problems from the jails to pay-to-play schemes. 

Liccardo, a former prosecutor, said it was time for Smith, currently the state's longest tenured sheriff, to step down from a post she has held for more than two decades because of a series of egregious abuses in recent years.  

"Sheriff Smith must go," Liccardo said at a news conference. "Regardless of whether it is corruption or incompetence best, Sheriff Smith's failures compel her resignation."

He said there has been a suggestion of bringing in the state Attorney General and even the U.S. Attorney to investigate her "leadership failures." But that all takes a lot of time and taxpayer money, Liccardo said.

"She would do the public a great favor by simply resigning," Liccardo said. 

Smith's office did not immediately respond. Neither did the Santa Clara County Deputy Sheriffs' union. A spokesperson from the sheriff's office said Smith would speak publicly on Tuesday morning.  

That's when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is set to meet to take up the issue of reforming the sheriff's office. Last week, two supervisors, including District 5 representative Joe Simitian called for the state Attorney General to investigate the sheriff’s office.

"This has to stop. And it’s only going to stop if we can get some help from other agencies," Simitian said.

Smith was first elected in 1998 and won her sixth term in 2018. She was the first elected female sheriff in California. Her current term ends in 2022. 

And Liccardo said her time should be up. 

He cited two consent decrees resulting in $450 million in public expenditure to improve jail operations and conditions, an ongoing bribery criminal investigation which resulted in three indictments of two of Smith's top aides and a campaign fundraiser, and a play-to-pay scandal relating to $300,000 in union contributions for her 2018 re-election.   

Liccardo also pointed to investigations that have exposed members of the sheriff's department who have beaten inmates, resulting in death and serious injuries and then covered up evidence exhibiting a "persistent noncompliance" with independent monitors. The scandals have come with a high cost, Liccardo said, pointing to tens of millions in taxpayer funds paid to settle civil rights lawsuits.

SEE ALSO: Santa Clara County deputies under scrutiny for mask-free party

The 2018 case of Andrew Hogan was settled for $10 million and is one example of possible mismanagement in the sheriff's office. Hogan had been in Santa Clara County custody and in the throes of a mental health crisis when he started banging his head against a jail transport van. Guards looked on as he caused himself permanent injuries. 

In 2015, Smith had publicly vowed to reform the department after three correctional officers beat 31-year-old Michael Tyree to death. The officers were convicted of second-degree murder two years later. The county settled with Tyree's family for $2.6 million. 

At the news conference, Liccardo also alleged a new and damning revelation: That for "several years," Smith required officers from other police departments to turn off their body worn cameras when bringing combative arrestees into the county jail. 

In doing so, Liccardo said, the lack of video would preclude any visual evidence of potential abuses by correctional officers that might come from the body worn cameras. In June of this year, Smith halted that mandate, Liccardo said, only because local police chiefs balked at the request. 

Liccardo has no official say over the sheriff's position; the Santa Clara County board of supervisors does. But he is a powerful voice in Silicon Valley politics.

Mike Lawlor, a criminal justice expert at the University of New Haven said the mayor's step is rare. 

"I’ve not seen a mayor call on a sheriff to step down before," he said. "When you see a group of people start to call for this, that’s when the momentum gathers." 

Liccardo also noted his role, saying is he the first elected official to call for Smith's resignation. 

"I think it's important for me to start," Liccardo said. "Obviously, I represent the majority of residents in this county, my role and someone who has spent part of his career in law enforcement. I think I have some insights into the challenges that law enforcement agencies have had routinely with the department under her leadership."

MORE: Santa Clara County deputy arrested for allegedly fabricating ambush

LaDoris Cordell, San Jose's retired Independent Police Auditor and Santa Clara Superior Court judge, said she didn't know what prompted Liccardo to speak out now. 

But she said that she is in full support of Smith's resignation because she has been "outraged" by the sheriff's behavior for years. 

The tipping point for Cordell were revelations that on Nov. 30, close to three-dozen Santa Clara County jail inmates spent nearly six minutes viciously beating a man they suspected had informed on his fellow gang members, and at no point did correctional officers try to stop it, the Mercury News reported.

Liccardo specifically singled out this last event, among others, as proof of Smith's lack of leadership. 

"In any civil society, the safety of inmates themselves must also be protected," Liccardo said. "And they must not be condemned to the Hunger Games. Under Sheriff Smith's leadership, the sheriff's office is engaged in extensive efforts to conceal the facts around these and other incidents." 

Liccardo stressed that he didn't want to "cast aspersions on the deputies who are working very hard," including the men and women who work in the sheriff's office who "work very hard every day to keep us safe."

No, he said, the blame is focused solely at the top.

"My concern is entirely with the leadership," Liccardo said.