San Jose mayor urges Santa Clara County sheriff to resign, alleging a ‘Hunger Games’ atmosphere for inmates

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks on May 26.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Aug. 19. I’m Justin Ray.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has made his feelings clear.

In a scathing media briefing this week, he called for the resignation of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, citing multiple controversies during her tenure.

“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’,” Liccardo said. “Santa Clara County taxpayers — the majority of whom reside in my city of San Jose — have footed the bill for eight-figure payouts on civil settlements.”

Among the issues Liccardo cited in calling for Smith’s resignation:


  • Three jail guards were found guilty of second-degree murder in the beating death of Michael Tyree, 31, a mentally ill inmate, at San Jose’s Main Jail in 2015.
  • In 2018, Andrew Hogan — a mentally ill man — became severely disabled after he was repeatedly injured while riding in a jail transport van unrestrained. Records newly acquired by the Mercury News reveal that the county quietly approved a $10-million settlement to the Hogan family.
  • In August 2019, deputies moved inmate Juan Martin Nunez onto his bed without stabilizing his spinal cord after a fall, according to Paolo Alto Online. Nunez, who is now quadriplegic, has filed a lawsuit that remains unresolved.
  • An ongoing investigation into an iPad bribery scheme involving the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has resulted in the indictment of two of Smith’s aides and a campaign fundraiser.
  • In 2020, three dozen jail inmates spent nearly six uninterrupted minutes beating a man they suspected had informed on his fellow gang members. Deputies did not try to stop it.

Following Liccardo’s comments, Smith said she stands by her staff.

“We have made meaningful change. There needs to be accurate information, not conjecture,” Smith said. She did not directly discuss the call for her resignation, but when asked whether she intended to step down, she said: “At this time, no.”

Because the allegations against her and the Sheriff’s Office include a constitutional violation, Smith said she welcomes the FBI and other federal agencies to conduct their own investigations.

Santa Clara County Supervisors Joe Simitan and Otto Lee have called for the public release of a report and audio recording related to the 2018 Hogan incident. The sheriff said her office may consider releasing the requested information in the case as long as there are no negative repercussions to the victims and their families.

I have laid out a lot here, but there’s still more to know.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California.

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Op-Ed: As a doctor in a COVID unit, I’m running out of compassion for the unvaccinated. Get the shot. Dr. Anita Sircar, an infectious disease physician and clinical instructor of health sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine, writes a personal essay for The Times. “The burden of this pandemic now rests on the shoulders of the unvaccinated. On those who are eligible to get vaccinated, but choose not to, a decision they defend by declaring, ‘Vaccination is a deeply personal choice.’ But perhaps never in history has anyone’s personal choice impacted the world as a whole as it does right now.” Los Angeles Times


Covid 19 vaccine protest
A protest at a Dodger Stadium COVID-19 vaccination site earlier this year.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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Just three of the 46 candidates running to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Sept. 14 election participated in a debate this week: former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley of Rocklin. As in a previous debate among Republicans this month, the candidates used the platform to rail against Newsom and the Democratic policies they say hurt Californians. But the event also marked the first time front-runner Larry Elder was targeted by the candidates from the debate stage. The event also included a moment of spectacle in which one hopeful was served with a subpoena onstage. Los Angeles Times

Silicon Valley lawmaker seeks to shorten the path to citizenship for immigrant tech workers. Many skilled foreign workers — especially from India — wait years for a green card, which would allow them to stay and work in America permanently. Federal legislation co-sponsored by Democratic Silicon Valley Rep. Zoe Lofgren would phase out some of the rules that have created the backlog. But the bill’s survival is far from certain. KQED


A Stockton woman was found guilty of sex trafficking children in California and Oregon, the Department of Justice said. Dawniel Santangelo, 43, recruited 15-, 16- and 17-year-old girls to engage in prostitution throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon, the Justice Department said. If convicted as charged, Santangelo faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. Her attorney information wasn’t available. Department of Justice

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In South L.A., turning to Black midwives to give birth. Black women are nearly four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white women, a gap that socioeconomic forces can’t explain. In fact, a Black woman with a college education has a 60% greater risk of dying than a white woman with less than a high school education. That’s why Black women are birthing at Kindred Space LA, one of relatively few Black-owned birthing centers in the nation. Los Angeles Times

L.A. Unified reports 3,255 student coronavirus cases in baseline back-to-school testing. Eight in 1,000 Los Angeles Unified School District students tested positive for the coronavirus in the two weeks leading up to the Monday start of the academic year, according to baseline testing results. Because L.A. Unified is so large — with more than 450,000 students expected to attend classes in person — the number of student infections also was large, totaling 3,255, with an overall infection rate of 0.8%. The infection rate among the district’s staff was smaller, at 0.6%. Los Angeles Times


What to do before, during and after a power outage. We are well into fire season here in California. Along with poor air quality and potential evacuations for many residents, this time of year means contending with power outages. It’s never a bad time to be prepared for a blackout. Here’s what you can do before, during and after the power goes out. Los Angeles Times

Sacramento’s large Afghan community is fearful as friends, relatives attempt to escape Kabul. “There is no word to express how we feel about the loss of 18, 20 years’ achievement in one night,” Besmellah Khuram said as he worried about his brother and his mother, who live in Kabul. One out of every nine Afghan natives living in the U.S. resides in the Sacramento region. About 9,700 Afghan people live in Sacramento County alone, more than any other county in the U.S., according to census data. Sacramento Bee

‘There was feces in several places in my room.’ Teachers arrived at Schurr High School in Montebello last week to prepare their classrooms for opening Monday. But instead of arranging books and desks, they found a horrific scene: dead rats on the floor, rat nests in the cabinets, excrement on desks. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: As someone noted on Reddit, L.A. can’t handle cloudy days, 80. San Diego: Have you tried Frosé yet? 74. San Francisco: 70. San Jose: 81. Fresno: Enjoy a White Claw! Black Cherry is the best flavor. 93. Sacramento: 93.


Today’s California memory is from Donald L Wade:

After our mom remarried, we moved to L.A. in the mid-1950s. On our first weekend, our stepfather asked my brother and I if there was any particular sight we would like to see. Griffith Observatory was our immediate reply. At the observatory’s front door, while our stepdad was reading the information sign, my brother and I dashed to the left lower parking area, the site where the confrontation between James Dean and the local thug in “Rebel Without a Cause” had been filmed. As we neared the spot where James Dean’s car had been, we held our breath because we knew we were stepping on holy ground.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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