Santa Clara County Sheriff rejects San Jose mayor's call to resign

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith on Tuesday responded to the San Jose mayor's call for her to resign by saying she welcomes any and all inquiries into her office, adding in a roundabout way that she has no intention to step down. 

After she spoke for an hour about all the progress she feels she has made during her 23 years as sheriff, a reporter directly pressed her on Mayor Sam Liccardo's call for her to step down.

To which she answered: "No… Or to quote a general, ‘nuts.’" 

Her reference was to U.S. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who refused to surrender to German troops in 1944.

Then she added that she didn't even see Liccardo's news conference, though "I have heard, of course."

Smith spoke ahead of the Santa Clara Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting, deflecting many questions about alleged corruption and mismanagement, instead focusing on what she has achieved. 

The supervisors were discussing reforming the Sheriff's Office by making more documents and video public, and inviting in the Attorney General to investigate "a possible pattern or practice of unconstitutional corrections conduct and/or civil rights violations." 

Smith said she would consider the release of that information but needed to be assured that it wouldn't negatively affect any victims or their families. She also invited the FBI in to investigate her, as some of the allegations are federal in nature. 

"I want to make it really clear that I that I support all of the investigations [being] recommend[ed], including additional," Smith said. 

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

Smith invited criminal defense attorney Paula Canny, who usually sues law enforcement, to be her ally at the news conference. Canny railed against U.S. society's paltry funding of treating people with mentally illness in proper medical settings, and instead, sending them straight to jail. 

"And so if you want to attack the sheriff for trying to do a job that jails are not ever intended to be treatment facilities for mentally ill people, you're going to have problems," Canny said.

Canny then said it was Smith who acted swiftly to investigate the beating death of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree in 2015, where three of the department's correctional officers were convicted of killing him. 

"I found Sheriff Smith to be super responsive," Canny said.

Smith then took some time going over facts and figures, as she sees them, to show the money she has spent – including on upgrading the jails to be ADA-compliant – and the progress she said she has made. Some of that progress, she noted, has been the dramatic decrease of inmates in solitary confinement. Now there are 10, she said, down from 150 six years ago - a  mandate forced upon the jails as part of a legal consent decree. 

But Smith did not directly address Liccardo's bold demand that she step down from office because of what he described as serious jail-abuse cases and corruption scandals that have plagued her leadership, a post she has held since 1998. 

She did explain her rationale for pleading the 5th Amendment when questioned by a grand jury in connection to a criminal bribery case involving her office. She said the district attorney never told her the focus of the investigation. And that these are still allegations that have not been proven in court. She added she’s glad she invoked her right against self-incrimination.

Instead, she spent most of her focus trying to defend Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian's criticisms of her department. 

But Liccardo went further than just criticism. 

On Monday, he became the first elected leader to lay out arguments for Smith to leave, adding that "she would do the public a great favor by simply resigning." 

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.

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. 

Shortly after the sheriff’s news conference, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors began debating the release of a confidential 19-page report related to the Hogan case. 

"The case of Andrew Hogan raises questions about the apparent lack of accountability," said Simitian, the District 5 representative on the Board of Supervisors. "We might draw more meaningful conclusions about what has and hasn’t happened if he had more transparency."

Smith said she has already signed a consent form, and cautioned against the report’s release, citing concern for the victim’s family.

"It really is important to have experts provide an in-depth review of some of the things that have been stated," said Smith.

Ultimately, the board did vote unanimously for the release of the 19-page confidential report. That must occur by the board’s Sept. 14 meeting.

 Jesse Gary contributed to this report.