What They Told Us, What They’re Doing

Reminder: Please sign and SHARE the petition that will be given to the Board of Supervisors asking they remove Sheriff Laurie Smith from the Blue Ribbon Commission due to conflict of interest. With 1000+ deputies between CPOA and the DSA, we can do better to get the word out for signatures.

The county Board of Supervisors have political ADHD. They too easily bend to pressure from special interest groups that have their own agenda, which may or may not run parallel to the agenda that best serves public interest. In this case, these groups have an agenda that they want addressed, and if we’re honest, probably should be addressed. Their agenda runs parallel to the interest of public safety reforms and because of this, they have been allowed to assist the sheriff in derailing the true purpose of this effort.

We were promised the “Creation Of Blue Ribbon Commission To Improve Custody Operations” to “rapidly, thoughtfully and meaningfully improve conditions and accountability.”

This effort was to, and I quote, to “[call] for a comprehensive review of our custodial processes, procedures and protocols,” with the goal being, “safely managing the mentally ill inmate population, processes for holding correctional staff accountable, processes to ensure inmates/advocates/inmate families can safely report potential abuse, increasing training for all custody staff, improving inmate support and programming, and improving the safety of inmates, visitors and custody staff.”

We have quickly moved from examining the policies, protocols and training that would prevent future issues to having to hear every public complaint about the jails and deputies, and possibly investigating them, at least to some degree to determine at minimum which are legitimate complaints and which are not. Let’s face it, there are plenty of people out there willing to… exaggerate… their stories when it comes to police. Unfair to those who are truthful and faced a true problematic situation, but they’re there none the less and if this commission is even going to have a semblance of honesty and fairness they are going to have to act on information that they can determine at least some level of truth too. So much for moving rapidly.

But that may not ultimately matter anyway given the way things are headed. Let’s begin by getting an independent group of unbiased individuals with expertise to review policy, practice, training and staffing, the very definition of a blue ribbon commission. But rather than do that, we’re getting what appears to be a result of the $95000 spent on spin doctors. It also appears the focus has been narrowed to “The topics the commission will review include inmate intake procedures and classifications; medical and mental intake; the mental health services provided; and safety for inmates, visitors and staff, Cortese said.” What exactly does “safety” mean?  These deaths didn’t just occur because these inmates happened to be mentally ill.  When it comes down to it, their mental illness had little to do with the overall situation of their deaths — Tyree was beaten for unknown reasons and, if we’re to be honest and transparent about certain conditions that exist in the jails, by unknown persons.  Roches may have died to the inappropriate use of a less lethal weapon that deputies were poorly trained on and led by badly written policy.  Improving mental health care is desperately needed, but it doesn’t appear that better mental health procedures would have necessarily alone prevented what happened.  One of them, as the sheriff was so quick to proclaim, died on the mental health floor with 24/7 supervision and in the presence of two defense attorneys.

Ultimately, this is who composes our blue ribbon commission:

The sheriff as the only professional with any in depth understanding of jails… as she was a matron for a number of years, eons ago. She’s also been in charge of the quickly collapsing practices over the past 5 years and has shown no talent for success here. Why would we believe her now competent to resolve problems when she created many of them over the past 5 years?

Unfortunately there is nothing independent about the sheriff’s appointment — it screams political manipulation and conflict of interest from the highest rooftop. I am truly shocked the media has remained silent — do they understand what a conflict of interest is? Are they clueless to the concept of what independent means? Where the hell are the people who claim to want fair justice? Or are they really just looking to turn the target to someone else as their idea of “justice” and “fairness”?

The Chief of Corrections, who also directly answers to the sheriff in another position, Undersheriff of Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. The definition of the job of CoC according to sources is strictly confined to kitchen, laundry and some non-sworn personnel functions in the jails, as defined by the county when the position was created.  The role was to take care of the minor issues while leaving the bulk of responsibility on the sheriff. He’s present presumably to take the fall for the sheriff should it come to an administrator’s head rolling. This is a presumption, but it is shored up by the interviews that the Chief has done where he states he takes “personal responsibility” for the actions of sworn staff, even though by definition he has no role in their supervision, training or development of policy for their jobs. He was the one that was put out to explain how the FN 303 is just an “air gun” that shoots “plastic projectiles”, all while sitting next to the sheriff who was actually responsible for policy. He was the one who stated that it was policy to aim for the torso using the FN 303. A policy which to date has not been provided to a questioning media. This is an indication that policy needs to be reviewed from top to bottom, something that hasn’t been done since the sheriff failed to re-create the Policy Compliance and Analysis Unit after her take-over.

A handful of people from the District Attorney’s offices, Probation and Behavioral Health. All relevant to the issues, but tangential. All with something to contribute to the ultimate end, particularly in regards to Behavioral Health. These aren’t the people who will generally know off-hand what standards the jails are legally obligated to meet, what policies though not legally mandated, have proven to be successful in other jails. Essentially, not the professionals that one would expect to address the base issues that have failed here, but have an absolute role in examining the developed policies and being able to identify improvements from their own professional and hands on view.

Then we get a ‘retired judge’. Likely Delores Cordell, who, in my opinion, proved in her last role that the title judge doesn’t automatically endow one with the ability to understand, review, analyze and/or work with law enforcement issues. She proved to be unable to work with San Jose PD, which ultimately, again in my opinion, significantly reduced her effectiveness turning her into a hack that simply churned the water for complaints. Considering the effect on SJPD, though compounded with other issues, it was almost wholly negative in developing trust and transparency between police and community. I would think they would avoid these same mistakes.

Mental health experts are to be included. I think considering the Board of Supervisors clearly intends to maintain our jails as some kind of pseudo-mental health facility to bring in the dollars, these people are critical to the development of policy that will determine intake efforts to define if an inmate is mentally ill and the best practices in processing them through various jail procedures. Finally we hit on at least one group of experts that are critical to the panel and actually fit the definition. Though we haven’t seen any official appointments yet, so this is subject to change.

Clergy, while I understand the role of religion, I do not understand their contribution to analyzing policies and procedures, staffing needs, nor training needs in this context. Though there may be areas of interest they could add to, I see clergy more in the role of bringing ideas to the commission through testimony at the appropriate time rather than creating policy around administration and day to day policy within a jail.

We’re also going to see an as yet undefined number of civil/women’s/inmate rights people. Again, I see these people in the role of called upon contributors when the time is appropriate. Perhaps to review new policy ideas that are compliant with the framework of standards and other successful jails, to see where they can be improved upon before being implemented. None of them appear to be able to provide the expertise in jail administration to analyze, improve or even create baseline policies, training programs, etc.

They’re going to include “employees“. An interesting corundum arises here. There are some excellent people who wear the uniform and are amazingly qualified to sit on this kind of panel. They’re not independent, but from a professional perspective, they have experienced the degradation and working with random policy practices inside this jail. They are in a particularly unique situation to provide insight. However, this is where another internal issue arises — again, much due to the sheriff’s lack of ability. Most suspect either one of her two more obvious choices for the 3rd Assistant Sheriff position she’s been fighting for now for a couple years (oh if she only fought that hard for a camera system, or more training money, or higher staffing numbers) will be the appointees. They don’t really now the problems, they don’t really care about the problems, they have ironically been the “feet on the ground” representing the failed administration on site. If you pick a deputy or sergeant who has been around long enough to have experienced the ups and downs over the years, most are dearly afraid of the sheriff and may keep their head down just to keep their jobs. She is notorious for finding ways to take out people, even if it means not necessarily doing the right thing. With her actually sitting on the commission, these people have a large possibility of being rendered both moot and mute, eliminating possibly the most enlightening testimony to just what is broken and how bad. I would say another alternative is to simply request testimony from deputies from various areas of the jails, but many have already expressed absolute terror at the idea that they could be called to speak for any reason. There’s a real problem here, and David Cortese only chose to exacerbate it by appointing the sheriff.

Family members, former inmates & the general public are to be appointed, again an as yet undetermined number. While these people don’t generally have much to offer in regards to administrative expertise, they add a level of transparency that is necessary and can build trust in the process with the community if the integrity of the commission is maintained. However derailing the effort to address policy, et al, should not be allowed. These people can be too easily misled by the sheriff and her agenda if allowed — she’s already clearly managed to turn this into a “bad deputy” problem in the public venue when the reality is, while there are occasionally bad people who get past a good background and hiring practice (which is questionable here), any good man or woman can be labeled “bad” when they’re acting based on bad training and policy — like shooting at the torso from 8 feet away with a high powered projectile launcher because that’s what “policy” says to do and ultimately having that inmate die in a defined homicide. A term most of the public can not and does not differentiate from murder by definition. Whomever is appointed, the leaders of this effort, unfortunately of which the sheriff is one, has an obligation to maintain appropriate definitions and understandings and keep the agenda where it was originally promised. A promise which is already sliding into oblivion.

The final addition is 2 county supervisors. Usually this makes sense. The problem here is that there are deep political waters here — favors to be exchanged, political agendas that have been married, political endorsements, and financial support. The sheriff’s office is frequently asked to do things to improve the political standing of supervisors, everything from showing up at community events to holding very expensive gun buybacks for publicity. They enjoy VIP status at the sheriff’s Best in the West event riding the carousel…err.. helicopter, and enjoying what is an annual party for the sheriffs friends. They were also the people who decided, with only the briefest of outlines at the end of 2009 to take the sheriff’s idea of $10M in cuts and put her in charge of the jails when they lost the ICE contract to hold their inmates waiting for trial or deportation. They then gave the nod to other cuts, such as 35% in staffing and 25% in supervisory sergeants. They remained unconcerned, or unaware, when the sheriff eliminated all oversight mechanisms like JAD and the PCAU. They left this all completely in the hands of a sheriff who’s only order of the day was to cut the jails to the bone. Like the sheriff, I have confidence few of them have any interest in examining the problems to closely for fear their roles come out.

So the only issues we have being addressed by independent, professional individuals with a direct context is mental health experts. No one like the individual that Dan Noyes, of ABC7 interviewed, Ernie Galvin, who seems to know more about how jails should work than anyone on the commission, to include the sheriff.

We see no one on this board that we can call independent that has the expertise of running a successful jail. Who has a solid grasp of requirements such as PREA training. Who knows enough about jails to look to see which policies that should exist don’t; if they do, are they correct and complete?

No one we see on the panel that can determine what a minimum staffing compliment would be, and what minimum supervision should be per location, per floor, per pod. No one who has experience in jail modernization. Perhaps people who had administered failing jails in the past and turned them around? There are a slew of experts and organizations around the country who do this, yet there is no appointments for anyone like them.

This is being reduced into a mental health and bad deputy issue. Fix the mental health issue, punish a few deputies to make us all “safer” and, Voila! Look how good we done, Mom.

In the meantime deputies have been reaching out for years through various means, this blog just one of them. They have tried to talk to a tone deaf sheriff and administration. They have tried to reach out to supervisors. They have tried to reach out to the voters. The deputies and even on occasion the media has provided plenty of prior opportunity to glimpse the growing problems and they’ve been ignored.

No one had to die. But no one wants to believe our sheriff is less than perfect because so many have tied their own wagon to hers. So the problems stayed, they got worse, and today two families have lost loved ones.  And we’re getting a “Blue Ribbon Commission” that appears less and less likely to address any of the real underlying issues — only the issue, mental health, that continues to bring in money from other counties.

And we haven’t even discussed how bad the enforcement side is. Do you really think if she’s failed this badly in the jails, she hasn’t created many similar problems in enforcement? It’s just a different environment, it can maintain longer. But all the problems are there too. It’s all just a matter of time.

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9 thoughts on “What They Told Us, What They’re Doing

  1. You’ve mentioned the $95k several times. Is that compensation to those on the commission? If so, and if the Sheriff and her personnel are on this committee…are they getting paid twice for a job they have been paid to do all this time? Will they be off the clock during their blue ribbon time and make up their hours?
    Why a new committee for a job that’s already in their job description? Aren’t policies and practices part of the job description?
    I think it’s genius! Screw up and don’t do your job the first time and get paid again (and potentially a slice of $95k) to do it wrong again. Again, I’m not clear if committee time is on the individual or the County clock. I’m very confused here!?!?!?
    On a positive note: I bet she’s pissed she actually has to participate/be present for these committee meetings. But how nice to be in charge of your own damage control.
    Will there be a checks and balances for meeting attendance and minutes? I’d venture to guess that after the newness fades, so will her attendance.

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    • The $95,000 was money that the County Executive, Jeff Smith, dropped on a lobbying firm to spin the story to protect the sheriff and Board of Supervisors, create press conferences, and tutor specific individuals on how to respond. Those being protected specifically include, but not limited to, Laurie Smith, Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese, from the decisions they’ve made over the past 5+ years that have contributed to the degradation of the jails — to include, but not limited too: staffing, supervision, training, equipment, policy oversight and review, and administrative review. Since the lot of them make $240+K each, I suspect they’re going to do this on the clock, those poor souls don’t make enough in salary to put in that kind of unpaid overtime, ya know. But that’s just guess.

      Policies and practices are part of the sheriff’s job description, and oversight to ensure functionality belongs to some degree to the supervisors for varying reasons. They screwed it up. So what better people to review where it got screwed up than the people who screwed it up. That way everyone gets re-elected again! Yay!

      She’ll be okay sitting on the commission — no one in the public is going to come down on her, they only deal with the end result of her bad decisions — the under-trained, under-staffed, under-supervised deputies. So their complaints will be about them and there is little this sheriff likes more than to hear how bad the deputies are so she can tell everyone how she’s going to hold them responsible. As far as any of her deputies speaking out against her with her sitting in judgement — simply not going to happen. Or if it does, it will be an anomaly in their eyes because only one or two will likely risk it.

      Her attendance… she’s going to be the Queen, she’ll be there.

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  2. The number of incidents that have occurred at the Sheriff’s Office is unbelievable. Residents would be surprised and shocked at the amount of money the County has paid out due to lawsuits and settlements filed against that department during Sheriff Smith’s tenure.

    I believe the County Executive when he says that “We’re trying to figure out how to do the public-information collection and not create a huge number of lawsuits,” according to a recent Mercury News article regarding the “Blue Ribbon Commission”.

    Should Sheriff Smith have allowed inmate autopsies be conducted by the Coroner’s Office when the Sheriff’s Office provides supervisory and administrative oversight of the Medical Examiner/Coroner’s Office? I believe eliminating any possibility of a conflict of interest would really be in the public’s best interest. There are supervisory sworn officers from the Sheriff’s Department assigned to the Coroner’s Office as a result of restructuring that occurred a few years ago.

    From a recent historical standpoint, you can read a copy of the 2005-6 Civil Grand Jury report about the Coroner’s Office here: http://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2006/SSCMedicalExaminer-CoronersOffice.pdf

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  3. You are right. This should be called “The Salem Witch Hunt and Rubber Stamp Commission.” Any value is lost when the Boss and her direct yes men head the Commission. There are several of us retired employees around and available. Many of us had a hand in writing the original policies for the new jails and reviewing the changes as they evolved. This is not a dig at any “Enforcement side” deputies, but it is the “Custody Side Deputies” that now the nuts and bolts and should be part of anything meaningful.

    During 25 years on the front line in the Custody Setting, I understand how the Clergy fit in the picture. I had an amazing relationship with the Clergy. Although they gave no details, they would always give me a heads up to those who might “need to be watched.” We worked as one with the goal of making sure there was no loss of life. Was it official? No. We just did what was right. There are so many gears in the machine that only someone who has seen them all work together in a proper manner can ever hope to explain their symbiotic nature. To just plug in people for effect get you just that: EFFECT. No true answers.

    They don’t want answers though. Just a document that mirrors an agenda ready for a rubber stamp.

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    • Rick, I feel all these people fit in the picture in some manner, it’s more a question of where do they fit in the process of reviewing policy and training… I feel they’re in the middle. After you ensure you have the policies you need and they meet the minimum standard — then people like clergy and rights advocates add their component to improve and, dare I say “humanize” them from their perspective and knowledge base. I’ll definitely bow to your better knowledge on the subject though, but please understand I wasn’t saying they don’t belong. My greatest fear here is that this turns into a lot of noise that never addresses the bottom line — which would be exactly what the sheriff wants and would harm deputies the most.

      I don’t believe anyone in enforcement is going to take offense at your words. There is a deep pool of people like you, people like Kevin Jensen, people who have no direct ties, no personal skin in the game, who aren’t going to be intimidated by the sheriff but bring a lot of experience and knowledge. They won’t pull from that pool without pressure to do so and we all know it. Enforcement should have no role in this commission, but I suspect you’re not going get those you think should serve, regardless of where they come from. My only point with enforcement being pulled was that their replacements should have been fully trained. They didn’t even get the half assed OJT that is the norm. You can’t know the components of a job you’ve never done. If no one tells you and you don’t know, it doesn’t get done. I stated unequivocally that anyone in corrections is just as capable of doing the job, as long as someone tells them in detail what the job entails. They were sold out by the sheriff, they were not giving the info/training to do the job right. That is not their fault, it’s the sheriff’s fault. It’s the BoS fault for not demanding the sheriff detail her plan before approving it.

      I have another question for you. If you would contact me via email at casey.thomas.reporting@gmail.com I have a question for you in regards to extending information the social media forum.

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    • Oh yeah, and I forgot… what to call it. I’ve taken to just calling it Sheriff Smith’s Commission. There’s no blue ribbon anywhere to be seen and it’s painfully evident it’s all about preventing anyone from looking to closely at how and why this place has nosedived in just a few years.

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  4. It seems to be a very large tent and they are inviting everybody in. The comparison to a circus is intentional!

    In a convoluted way, which could only take place in Santa Clara County, the Undersheriff is reponsible for the staff in the jail as well as the laundry and food service. He is number 2 in the chain of command so the Assistant Sheriff of Custody answers to the Undersheriff in all matters. Of course if you follow the chain of command up, he answers to the Sheriff. That begs the question, “Why does he take full responsibility?” It belongs to the Sheriff! “The Buck Stops Here” was a sign on President Truman’s desk, not in the desk of his Vice President.

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