Scathing report details failures within Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office

A confidential report of failures within the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office was made public on Monday.

The report explained the county paid the family of Andrew Hogan $10 million for damages inflicted, in part, by sheriff’s deputies and their failure to act. Those lapses left the 26-year-old with a permanent brain injury.

"The public can’t hold the sheriff accountable if they don’t have this information," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian.

The information Simitian put in the public domain is contained in a 19-page memorandum from the Santa Clara County Counsel.

The report goes into gruesome detail about the August 2018 incident at Elmwood Jail that left Hogan with a traumatic brain injury.

"We had a man whose life was destroyed, and behavior that cost the county $10 million. The highest individual claim I can ever remember," Simitian said.

The memo said Hogan was having a mental health episode and was transported from Elmwood to the county's main jail. Despite smashing his head several times against the van, causing profuse bleeding, one jail supervisor said Hogan, "…will do all the damage that he wants (to himself)."

Six-term incumbent Sheriff Laurie Smith ordered an internal investigation into the incident as part of her efforts to reform the management of the jails.

"We’ve got a lot of work to do. I understand the process. I know we have the best command staff. And I know we can make positive change," Smith said on Aug. 17.

But the county council wrote, "The internal investigation was closed by the Sheriff’s Office without any conclusions being reached as to the conduct…"

Simitian believes the internal investigation was "spiked, or suppressed. By whom? It is not clear."

A report by the Office of County Law Enforcement Management (OCLEM) said, "…a supervising officer involved in the (Hogan) incident publicly supported the sheriff in her successful campaign to be re-elected in November of 2018 and the sheriff promoted that officer in December 2018."

The watchdog agency seeks subpoena power to get access to any information the sheriff’s office has.

Added to this, an ongoing criminal probe into bribery within the Sheriff’s Office.

In August, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a vote of no-confidence in Smith with Mayor Sam Liccardo calling for her to step down.

"Sheriff Smith must resign," the mayor said on Aug. 31. At a separate news conference the same day, Smith shot back saying, "Mayor Liccardo needs to focus on what it is he’s doing, instead of being a mouthpiece for the Mercury News."

Experts said the ongoing political intrigue hurts efforts by multiple agencies to govern effectively.

University of San Francisco political scientist, Dr. James Taylor, said, "the relationship between the board and the sheriff and the mayor and all of the leadership of the city of San Jose is fractured beyond the point of repair."

Simitian concedes Smith is duly elected, and can’t be fired. But he remains hopeful increased pressure will lead to a change in her behavior or a change in leadership.

"This has got to stop. The way we provide some small measure of justice is by holding the system and the people in it accountable," he said.

Simitian worries about the next shoe to drop — the case of inmate Juan Martin Nunez who was also injured at the main jail. He believes the county could pay more than the $10 million it paid to the Hogan family.

The sheriff’s office had no comment about the release of the memo, but Smith tried to block it from being made public.