Santa Clara County supervisors delay tear gas, military purchase vote

The Santa Clara County board of supervisors on Tuesday delayed a vote regarding the sheriff's purchase of more military equipment, as well as the use of tear gas in the jails, following a KTVU investigation and a request by commissioners for more time to weigh in on the matter.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said because of the "public concern" over the use of the tear gas, the issue would now be discussed on Sept. 19. 

She also directed the county's independent arm, known as the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, to include the county's monitoring committee, known as CCLEM, in all their correspondence and findings about the use of tear gas in the future.

Christine Clifford and Walter Wilson, chair and co-chair of the committee respectively, wrote the supervisors on Monday, asking the board to postpone the agenda item because they hadn't been formally notified. 

The two said their commission did not have an opportunity to review the report – which essentially OK'd the use of tear gas – and provide input to the supervisors about how the sheriff should be using the chemical agent. 

"When our committee previously reviewed the military equipment report, we recall being told by the Sheriff's Office that chemical agents were only to be used in enforcement situations and would be limited to field use, riot control type situations," Clifford and Wilson wrote in a joint letter. "We were not aware that these chemical agents would be used on individuals inside the jails."

KTVU conducted a monthlong investigation into the use of tear gas at the jails and discovered that the Santa Clara County Sheriff is the only law enforcement agency to use tear gas in its jails. Deputies used the gas 17 times on incarcerated people over the last year, mostly for not complying with orders. 

"This is alarming to us, it's an eye-opening," Wilson told the supervisors on Tuesday. "The community should weigh in on this." 

Santa Clara County sheriff's officials told KTVU that they consider tear gas a "low-level tool," which they believe is a safer option than if deputies went "hands on" with someone in a situation that could escalate even further.

Critics, including the ACLU, Silicon Valley De-Bug and the Asian Law Alliance, find the use of tear gas on people "inhumane" and "shocking."