San Jose mayor says Santa Clara County sheriff should resign: ‘Corruption or incompetence’

Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose speaks at microphones while people stand behind him
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, center, speaks to the media outside the White House on July 12. Liccardo is calling for the resignation of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.
(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

After multiple allegations of inmate abuse and neglect as well as corruption in Santa Clara County jails, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is calling for the resignation of Sheriff Laurie Smith.

Liccardo says there’s no question that Smith, who has been the county’s top law enforcement officer for nearly two dozen years, should step down.

“As a former criminal prosecutor, I believe in the necessity of jail detention to serve public safety, but in any civil society, the safety of inmates themselves must also be protected,” Liccardo said during a news conference Monday.


Liccardo is the first elected official to publicly call for the resignation of Smith, who was first voted into office in 1998 and is the longest-serving elected sheriff in Santa Clara County. The mayor said Smith’s alleged mismanagement has “destroyed lives and violated the most basic of civil rights of inmates” and has created a “dystopian place of horrible suffering.”

According to the mayor, Smith’s 23 years in office have resulted in a slew of egregious abuse allegations, including:

  • repeated severe beatings of inmates;
  • repeated concealment of facts related to those incidents;
  • tens of millions of taxpayer dollars paid to litigants alleging civil rights violations by deputies;
  • two consent decrees resulting in $450 million in public expenditures to improve jail conditions and operations;
  • an ongoing criminal bribery investigation, resulting in the indictment of two top aides and a campaign fundraiser;
  • and a pay-to-play scandal involving $300,000 in union contributions toward Smith’s 2018 reelection campaign.

“When a grand jury indicts the sheriff’s top assistants and campaign fundraiser on bribery charges relating to contributions to her own reelection efforts, we should have serious concerns,” Liccardo said. “But when the same sheriff — the top law enforcement official in the county — then refuses to cooperate with that same bribery investigation for fear of incriminating herself, the time for concern is long past.”

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Liccardo’s announcement comes days after two members of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors called for an investigation into Smith and the Sheriff’s Office after the injuries and deaths of multiple inmates at the jails.

Supervisors Joe Simitan and Otto Lee have called for the public release of a report and audio recording related to a 2018 incident involving Andrew Hogan, a mentally ill man who became severely disabled after he was repeatedly injured while riding in a jail transport van unrestrained. At the time, Hogan was having a mental health crisis and received no assistance from deputies or jail staff, according to the Mercury News.

Liccardo said he was recently made aware of an alleged long-standing practice put in place by Smith, mandating that officers from police departments disable their body-worn cameras when booking certain inmates into the jail, precluding any video evidence of abuse from correctional officers. That mandate was halted in June, Liccardo said.


Deputy Cian Jackson, a spokesperson for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, said Monday that the agency will not be issuing a formal response to the allegations against Smith or the department but is tentatively scheduling a news conference for Tuesday.

Liccardo said Santa Clara taxpayers — the majority of whom reside in San Jose — have footed the bill for eight-figure payouts in response to the failures of the sheriff’s management.

The Sheriff’s Office discreetly approved a $10-million settlement to Hogan’s family, the Mercury News reported, despite $450 million the county has already invested in jail reforms and a federal court agreement ordering the improvement of the facility’s conditions after the 2015 death of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree, who was beaten to death by three correctional deputies.

“Regardless of whether corruption or incompetence best explains Sheriff Smith’s failures, either suffices to compel her resignation,” Liccardo said.