By Andrea Nakano

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – The candidates for Santa Clara County Sheriff squared off Tuesday night in their first forum, with one notable exception: incumbent Laurie Smith.

The five-term sheriff may actually be her own toughest competition.

This hasn’t been a smooth campaign for Laurie Smith, who is running for her sixth term as Sheriff of Santa Clara County.

A number of issues haunt her and those running against her point to the lack of leadership for the problems within the sheriff’s department.

The Santa’s Clara County Sheriff’s Department has been rocked by one scandal after another in recent years.

From ICE agents interviewing inmates to the conviction of three correctional officers for the murder of inmate Michael Tyree in 2015.

It has opened the window for possibly a new sheriff in town.

One of the leading opponents is former Undersheriff John Hirokawa.

“I never blamed other people. I explained I was part of that leadership group. I took responsibility,” Hirokawa said. “But nobody else, including the three who have now been convicted, have ever voiced or taken any responsibility, including any county official and the county sheriff who’s in charge of the jails.”

Four challengers took part in this forum in the heated race for Santa Clara County Sheriff.

Incumbent Laurie Smith had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t participate, but she did make herself available to KPIX 5 before the event.

Smith said, “We take it very seriously when there’s officer misconduct. We take it head on, we stand tall, we let the community know the mistakes that we make and we answer to the mistakes.”

Now, new allegations of sexual harassment and evidence tampering have surfaced. It stems from accusations made nearly 30 years ago, where Smith allegedly harassed a male coworker.

“Factually inaccurate. I have an unblemished record with the sheriff’s office. And again, 45 years of unblemished record. I’m really proud of everything that we have done,” Smith said.

Smith denies any wrongdoing, but Hirokawa believes there is some truth to her destroying key evidence decades ago.

“I believe that was an abuse of power basically because you are the assistant chair, at that time that’s the number two position in the sheriff’s office,” Hirokawa said.

The election is June 5 and if one candidate does not get more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be a runoff election in November.

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