SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Monday called for the resignation of longtime Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, citing multiple issues involving the sheriff’s office during her tenure.
“It may not be evident to her, but it’s painfully apparent to everyone else—Sheriff Smith must resign,” Liccardo said on social media Monday morning.
At a briefing, the mayor expanded on his comments. “Sheriff Smith’s repeated mismanagement of the jail, particularly as evidenced by horrible incidents in recent years, has destroyed lives, and has violated the most basic civil rights of its denizens,” he said.
First elected in 1998 and re-elected five times since then, Smith’s tenure has been filled with allegations of mismanagement over the jails, including the murder of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree by three jail guards in 2015 and the beating of another mentally ill inmate, Andrew Yogan, in 2018. There have also been allegations of concealed facts related to those attacks.
Another issue noted by Liccardo include an ongoing criminal investigation into potential bribery in her most recent campaign. In the bribery investigation, two of Smith’s top aides and a campaign fundraiser were indicted, Liccardo said.
The mayor also noted two consent decrees resulting in $450 million in public spending to improve jail operation along with tens of millions in taxpayer dollars being paid to settle civil rights lawsuits against deputies.
“I’m hoping she will step down,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian who added his voice to the calls for Smith to leave.
“I’m pleased that we have other voices expressing the same kind of concern that Supervisor Otto Lee and I have been expressing for some time now. We need a change. We can’t expect a change in behavior, so we’re going to need a change in leadership,” Simitian told KPIX 5.
Simitian is calling on previously undisclosed information regarding the in custody beating of Hogan to be made public.
But Simitian said as a duly-elected public official, Smith can’t just be fired.
“Which is why the action we’re looking to take tomorrow morning calls on other agencies of government, the Civil Grand Jury, the State Attorney General, the Fair Political Practices Commission, to take the action that only they can take and to make information available to the public. Because again, if the sheriff is an independently elected official, the public can’t hold the sheriff accountable until they have that information,” the supervisor said.
Now retired Santa Clara County Undersheriff John Hirokawa ran and lost against Smith in her last bid for re-election in 2018. He said he agrees Smith should resign.
“I called for her resignation during the campaigns,” Hirokawa said. “She hasn’t agreed to an independent oversight of either the jails or the enforcement. You’ve got to have community trust, and without that community trust you need independent oversight to bring that.”
Hirokawa believes Smith should have called for an independent investigation as soon as her top commanders were indicted in the bribery case.
“She should’ve assigned that investigation to an outside firm so there’s no conflict of interest,” he said. “I believe that the current sheriff preys on the fact that there’s apathy and nobody’s really paying attention.”
But some in the public are starting to pay attention, and elected officials calling for her resignation hope that gains momentum.
“I think there should be a deeper look, for sure,” said Santa Clara County resident Rigo Cervantes. “We’re law-abiding citizens, paying our taxes and I feel everybody does have the right to know those kinds of things of people that are in power.”
KPIX 5 spoke with Smith about some of the criticism against her during an interview last Thursday.
“There has been a lot spent on the jail. One of our big problems is people with mental health. We have people in jail that really don’t belong in jail but are waiting for a mental health treatment bed. We need more focus,” the sheriff said at the time. “There has been a lot of money spent on aging infrastructure and mental and medical services too.”
Last week, two county supervisors called for investigations form the California Attorney General’s Office and the county’s civil grand jury.
In a response to KPIX 5 reporter Len Ramirez, Smith said she did not have comment Monday but planned to respond to calls for her resignation in a news conference Tuesday morning.
Len Ramirez and Maria Medina contributed to this report.