Following allegations of inmate abuse and corruption in Santa Clara County jails, Sheriff Laurie Smith on Tuesday said she stands by her staff and welcomes any investigations into her department.
Smith said during a news conference that an in-depth review is necessary to get the “true facts.”
Last week, 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 jail inmates.
Supervisors Joe Simitan and Otto Lee 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.
“I want to make it very clear that I support all of the investigations,” Smith said Tuesday. “We have made meaningful change. There needs to be accurate information, not conjecture.”
On Monday, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called on Smith — who was first elected in 1998 — to resign. He said Smith’s alleged mismanagement as the longest-serving elected sheriff in Santa Clara County has “destroyed lives and violated the most basic of civil rights of inmates” and created a “dystopian place of horrible suffering.”
Smith did not directly address Liccardo’s call for her resignation, but when asked whether she intended to step down, she said, “At this time, no.”
Smith was speaking ahead of a Board of Supervisors meeting, where members were set to discuss a potential investigation of the incident in which Hogan was injured.
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.
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 independent investigations.
“We’re going to do these investigations,” Smith said. “Let’s see what the truth is.”
In a unique alliance, Paula Canny — an attorney who represented the families of Hogan and Michael Tyree, an inmate who was beaten to death by three correctional deputies in 2018, in litigation against the Sheriff’s Office and the county — supported Smith.
Canny said at Tuesday’s news conference that a lack of mental health resources and the criminalization of mental illness has forced Smith’s office to “do an impossible task.”
“Mental illness is a public health crisis, not a criminal justice problem,” she said. “If you want to attack the sheriff for trying to do a job that jails are not ever intended to be, treatment facilities for mentally ill people, you’re going to have problems.”
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