SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith on Tuesday addressed calls by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and others for her to step down, saying she will not resign.
City and county leaders have accused the sheriff of violating people’s civil rights with how the county jail has been mismanaged.READ MORE: Public Health Officials, NBA Bench Unvaccinated Warriors Star Andrew Wiggins For Chase Center Games
They have also cited additional scandals Smith has been associated with, including 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 on Monday leveled some of the harshest criticism yet against Sheriff 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.
The press conference Smith held Tuesday was the first time she responded to Liccardo’s calls for her to step down. It took 45 minutes for her to say she would not resign, and the statement didn’t come until after reporters asked her to respond to Liccardo urging her resignation.
“I didn’t see his press conference, I have heard of it of course. And we’re going to do these investigations,” said Smith. “Let’s see what the truth is. At this time, no. Or to quote a general, ‘Nuts!’ There’s a lot still to be done”
Smith’s allusion to a general’s quote was a reference to U.S. Army Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, who famously sent the same one-word response to German commanders demanding his surrender at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
Smith has been the sheriff since 1998. South Bay leaders say her reputation has been tarnished for years. There have been allegations of concealed facts, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars paid out in civil rights cases, costly consent decrees to improve jail conditions as well as the aforementioned bribery and campaign investigations.
For most of the press conference, Sheriff Smith talked about progress at the jail under her watch. She says her department has been at the helm of meaningful change even with the current staffing shortage. Smith said they are about 133 employees short, including health professionals. She welcomed any investigation into how the jail has been run.
“Since there continues to be a lot of speculation and inferences, I welcome any and all investigations. It really is important to have experts provide an in-depth review of some of the things that have been stated so we can get the true facts,” Smith said.
Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Supervisors all agreed to call in the Department of Justice, State Attorney General, Civil Grand Jury and Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate Smith’s office and whether she violated any laws.
“Do you bear any responsibility for any of that? ” asked KPIX Reporter Len Ramirez.
“Um, yes. Change is not as quick as I would like change to be,” Smith said.READ MORE: As COVID Delta Variant Infections Subside Experts Warn of Winter Surge
The Sheriff deflected some questions and then blamed slow progress on jail reforms on not enough people.
“We’re really stifled by staffing,” she said.
When talking about a six-minute beating of an inmate by fellow inmates, Smith also said the DA’s office never informed her that the beaten inmate was a witness in a Sureno gang trial. Smith said if she had known, the inmate would have been given special protection.
Renowned local defense attorney Paula Canny also took to the microphone to defend Smith. She blamed the jailhouse incident involving her client Andrew Hogan not on deputies, but on a broken mental health system.
Hogan had numerous interactions with the state mental health system and was jailed for a “minor infraction” because there was no bed available for him at a county mental health facility.
Other city and county officials have joined Liccardo’s call for Smith to resign.
“I’m hoping she will step down,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian on Monday, 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.
Supervisor Simitian also wants confidential files from the Hogan case which was settled for $10 million to be opened up.
“Was there an investigation and if not, why not? Was that investigation completed and if not, why not? Was there any discipline and if not, why not?” asked Simitian.
The sheriff fought back on the release of those case files.
“Their concerns should really be of the highest order in releasing information
that could cause further trauma to the families,” Smith said.
But Simitian said the public has a right to know.
“If the sheriff is an independent elected official, the public can’t hold the
sheriff accountable, until and unless they have that information,” he said.
Justin Andrews and Len Ramirez contributed to this report.