Santa Clara County supervisors want an investigation into jails, citing series of inmate injuries

Two Santa Clara County supervisors are calling for an investigation into the county's jails, citing a pattern of problems and lack of transparency. They pointed to the death of an inmate in 2015 and the injuries of two others in 2018 and 2019.

They said conditions at the jails have led to a series of incidents that have been tragic and costly. One of them, the case of Andrew Hogan, was recently settled.

Back in 2018, Hogan was 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.

The damage he caused as guards looked on was permanent.

Santa Clara County supervisors said they don't know whether the guards were disciplined following the incident.

"I mean a man's life was ruined and we paid $10 million to settle those claims and the answers to those questions are still not there," said Supervisor Joe Simitian.

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For those reasons, Simitian and Supervisor Otto Lee are demanding action. They want records and video of the incident released. They also want a civil grand jury and the attorney general to intervene.

"Any attempt to get the kind of information that would shed light has been rebuffed repeatedly," said Simitian.

Jail reform was supposed to be a priority.

The death of a mentally ill inmate, Michael Tyree, back in 2015, resulted in the conviction of three guards and the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission intended to spark change.

They made hundreds of recommendations but the commission said real oversight never happened.

"Everyone is frustrated after we've made all these recommendations and put in all this time. Unless leadership changes, there's not going to be a change in the jails," said Ladoris Cordell, a retired judge who chaired the commission.

Sheriff Laurie Smith declined to be interviewed, but she has previously spoken about the difficulties in having county jails deal with mental health crises.

Deputy Russell Davis, spokesperson for the sheriff's office, said jail facilities are not ideal settings for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

He said Hogan should have been put in a treatment facility, not a jail.

"I have long been a proponent of mental health treatment for individuals suffering from mental illness, not incarcerating them in a jail environment," Davis said.

That's something attorney Paula Canny, who represented both the Tyree and Hogan families, wants to emphasize.

"In terms of more transparency, we all want more transparency. But I want to be clear it's not the sheriff's department in a vacuum," she said.

And with a third claim from another inmate who was allegedly injured in the works, Simitian says enough is enough.

"The short version is, this has to stop. And it's only going to stop if we can get some help from other agencies. And if the public is informed about what's going on and at what cost, both in human life and in public funds," Simitian said.

The Santa Clara County Supervisors plan to take up the matter at Tuesday's meeting.