San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is calling on Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith to resign from her post as the top law enforcement official in the county following a series of scandals that have plagued her office over the years.
Smith, who was elected in 1998 and most recently re-elected in 2018, is one of the longest-serving sheriffs in California history.
During a Monday morning news conference, Liccardo said he is demanding the sheriff resign over a slew of incidents including: the repeated beatings of inmates that resulted in severe injury and death, the concealment of facts surrounding those incidents, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars used to pay litigants for civil rights violations under her watch, and an ongoing criminal investigation over bribery involving concealed carry weapon permits and hefty campaign donations that has led to the indictments of two of her top aides and a campaign fundraiser.
“As a former criminal prosecutor, I believe in the necessity of jail detention to serve public safety,” Liccardo said. “But in any civil society, the safety of the inmates themselves must also be protected, and they must not be condemned to some dystopian tenure in ‘Hunger Games.’ Under Sheriff Smith’s leadership, the Sheriff’s Office has engaged in extensive efforts to conceal the facts around these and other incidents, most palpably by refusing to share information with the County Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring and the County Auditor.”
When asked by reporters why he decided to call for her resignation now, the mayor cited recently-released county documents and the revelation that the sheriff’s office was instructing other police departments to turn off their body-worn cameras when bringing “combative arrestees” into the jail. Her refusal to cooperate with the grand jury investigation into bribery charges around her 2018 re-election bid, he said, also contributed to the decision.
“To decline, for fear of self-incrimination, that should disqualify someone from serving in any law enforcement capacity, let alone the highest-ranking law enforcement [officer] in the county,” Liccardo said of Smith taking the fifth last year.
Liccardo’s announcement comes less than a week after county supervisors Joe Simitan and Otto Lee issued a memo asking the sheriff’s office to release records relating to a 2018 incident wherein an inmate suffered a traumatic brain injury while being transported from Elmwood Jail to Main Jail.
The supervisors have also requested the California attorney general investigate whether there is a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional corrections conduct and/or civil rights violations” in the jails.
“The jail has been the scene of a series of tragic and costly incidents, sometimes without explanation, and without apparent accountability,” Simitan and Lee wrote. “Answers are few and far between. And in the absence of greater transparency, the question of possible political influence looms large.”
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will discuss the issue at its August 17 meeting. Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran declined to comment on whether Sheriff Laurie Smith should resign.