Beyond Thunderdome – The State of Sheriff Laurie Smith’s Jails

The Mercury News (Bay Area News Group) reported “Such assaults [on deputies] are fairly commonplace and would not normally come to the public’s attention. But the jails, overseen by Sheriff Laurie Smith, have come under heightened scrutiny since late August…”

What we’re seeing here is some bizarre system that has deteriorated enough to perhaps literally pit guard against inmate in some twisted effort of… survival? …revenge? I really don’t know what to call it at this point. It’s clearly becoming more dangerous and deadly than need be though and in part that is all of our faults, and some of us are still falling down on the job.

Here’s what I do know. The above statement is a blatant admission by a major local media source that they simply did not think “commonplace” attacks on deputies should elicit any concern. It didn’t cross their minds that perhaps there were deeper problems to be examined here. Maybe they didn’t believe there may be resulting increased risks to all in the face of that knowledge in addition to events such as deputies in corrections voting 100% against the sheriff in the last election for issues like staffing concerns, training concerns, ethical considerations towards ensuring the jails don’t fall into painfully stereotypical failures they’ve made multiple movies about, done studies on, and saw cause a major international incident for the United States in the not too distant past.

Despite during the election where we addressed the lack of improvements, training, policy all these incidents seem to come as a surprise to so many. Right up to our pointing out the sheriff’s most recent drastic staffing cuts and reduction in investigatory power in the jails, we were still pretty much looked at as the “Keystone Kops” that the sheriff and her political minion labeled us as.

We kept pointing out to continue this path will only lead to bad places. We were ignored. Today you want to ignore the fact that we can stand here and say “we told you so,” pretend that you have no culpability in ignoring what we tried to point out, the obvious risks that should have been clear to any reasonable, thinking individual. Instead we were told media sources like the Mercury News were endorsing Laurie Smith, because hey it was time for her to retire, but she’d done well enough that we could trust her over the other guy with nearly 30 years law enforcement experience who was probably just going to give deputies what they wanted.

Let’s remind people what deputies wanted — a better training/perishable training regimen, improvement of equipment to ensure safety, reviews of incidents to determine if there training/equipment/policy practices that could be improved upon to do a better job, more accountability when someone did something wrong at all levels of the office, a fair internal affairs system that wasn’t being used for revenge or to manipulate those who lacked ethics. They also sought a promotion process that had at least a minimal basis in experience, skill, proven ability and not just a subjective oral board where the person shoulder tapped by the sheriff or her minion was guaranteed to get the assignment. They wanted the sheriff to stop interfering in negotiations with the county, stop initiating petty policy as a slap in the face (such as the t-shirt policy). They wanted an administration where there was, at least, a level of mutual respect and an ability to work together towards a common goal of best practices.

And the attention our community has been paying to these issues is appalling. It continues to amaze me how ” respected activists” come out of the woodwork with each incident and herald the sheriff. Most recently Walter Wilson, a board member of the African American Community Service Agency, was the guilty party of ignoring relevant history and applauding the sheriff who has led us to this special hell. Where have these people been hiding?  Two lawsuits after the sheriff chose to ignore attempts to approach her, deputies abandoning their support of her en masse, the barely luke warm support of all but her most closely held supporters who exchange favors with or get paid by her, from Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese, to Ben Field and Rich Robinson (formerly known as The Daily Filch).

And the sheriff, she must be the most surprised of us all regarding all this havoc under her leadership, now that’s laughable.

As the Sheriff of Santa Clara County with over 35 years of law enforcement experience, I have a
unique global perspective of what is needed to establish and maintain necessary standards that
will facilitate progressive growth of the law enforcement profession throughout the State.

The knowledge and experience I have gained leading my organization, combined with my
participation on the State Sheriffs Association and local Police Chiefs Association, has afforded
me numerous opportunities to discuss law enforcement trends and philosophies with Sheriffs and
Police Chiefs throughout the State. Through these relationships I have established within the law
enforcement community, I have developed a foundational understanding of what leads to
organizational and professional failure and success. This understanding provides me with the
necessary perspective to identify and prioritize critical standards that will enhance the law
enforcement profession today and in the future.

— Sheriff Laurie Smith, 2009, California Senate Rules Committee Hearing

According to the sheriff herself, in her own words, due to her experience and professional relationships, she is an expert in identifying and addressing issues before they’re a problem. That she has a global understanding of the standards needed to facilitate growth and professionalism, not only in her office, but across the state. That she has a foundational understanding of what leads to professional and organizational failure. If this is true, the state of her office indicates nothing less than a willful dereliction of duty and a deliberate indifference towards the safety of inmates, her personnel and the entire population of Santa Clara County.

I’ll point out once again, we have spent much of our recent time looking at the failures of the past 6 years of her leadership in corrections due to the drastic end results of her ability to recognize the leading causes of organizational failure. Given the state of Corrections, why would we continue to believe her leadership is any more effective and professional in enforcement or in her quickly failing academy now ranked in the middle of the pack? Are we going to wait for a complete meltdown of the entire office to do something about this sheriff?

It’s time for a recall and special election to replace the sheriff and her 4th floor failures. It’s time to stop pretending that the sheriff is anything more than a leader who can clearly talk the talk, but is falling down and injuring us all when she tries to walk the walk; or that most of those she’s promoted up the ranks lean anymore towards an end result of organizational success than she does.

Enough is enough.


4 thoughts on “Beyond Thunderdome – The State of Sheriff Laurie Smith’s Jails

  1. Pingback: A Good Story out of Santa Clara County Jails | Casey Thomas' World

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    • Recall is a rather convoluted legal process. It must be headed by an individual with the jurisdiction to vote in the county for the position under recall. It’s recommended, virtually necessary that all parties have an attorney to ensure you follow the process successfully. The first effort would be to find someone with the right to pursue a recall and, unfortunately, the monetary ability to engage a law firm or find one willing to assist out of heartfelt generosity towards community improvement.

      You can find the basic outline for starting a recall of a Santa Clara County elected official at


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