Santa Clara County Supervisors vote ‘No Confidence’ in Sheriff Laurie Smith

This week the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously that the board lacks confidence in County Sheriff Laurie Smith to “faithfully, effectively and ethically perform the duties of the role.” They have asked for a report to be submitted in 60 days detailing the Sheriff’s plan to smoothly transition leadership on or before the end of her term, in December, 2022.

The justification for the vote, according to the no-confidence resolution approved 5-0 in Tuesday’s meeting, stems from a “series of revelations and incidents” that have eroded the Supervisors’ confidence, including “alleged ethical violations within the Sheriff’s office, repeated incidents of apparent malfeasance and/or negligence in the County jails, obstruction of efforts to provide transparency and independent oversight of jail and law enforcement operations, and unanswered questions regarding fiscal mismanagement and employee relations.”

The allegations include the corruption and bribery probes over concealed weapons permits and the Sheriff’s reelection campaign and reporting,  mismanagement related to multiple incidents of inmate injury or death while under the care of correctional staff, and related lawsuits, failure to cooperate with independent investigations and commissions charged with discovering and making recommendations on potential operational improvements, and various pay-to-play arrangements involving taxpayer resources, staff and supporters.

The Board has directed staff to submit the resolution for consideration or investigation to the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the California State Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a separate resolution, the Board called for Sheriff Smith to deliver a report in 60 days outlining a transition plan for her retirement ‘on or before the end of 2022’, which is the end of her most recent elected term as sheriff. “A well planned transition will minimize interruptions, animosity, and enhance the continual building of relationships and instill trust between County residents and our public safety officers, which is of paramount importance to maintain public safety, and will help restore the confidence in the Office of the Sheriff,” the resolution stated.

Sheriff Smith has served in the Office of the Sheriff for 48 years. She was first elected to her role in 1998, and was re-elected to four subsequent terms. As the top law enforcement official in Santa Clara County, she is responsible for other one thousand employees, including Sheriff’s Deputies and Correctional Officers.

Last week, Mayor Sam Liccardo joined several Supervisors in calling for the resignation of Sheriff Smith over the same allegations. In a subsequent press conference, Sheriff Smith welcomed the investigation, suggested expanding its scope to include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and methodically addressed the allegations against her. She enumerated progress made under her office’s direction and called for improvements in the County’s mental health services.

This week, the California Attorney General dropped charges in a second case in the multi-pronged bribery scandal around concealed weapons permits involving the Sheriff’s office, citing lack of evidence to successfully prosecute Christopher Schumb, accused of helping broker donations in exchange for the permits. The order follows a similar case earlier this summer, in which a judge dismissed charges against Apple executive Thomas Moyer, who was indicted for offering iPads in exchange for permits. Smith invoked her rights under the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer questions related to the alleged bribery scheme last August, when she appeared before a criminal grand jury.