Blue Ribbon Commission – Study Session

Updated @4:05pm 2/20/16: termination analysis of jail staff added below

I just finished watching the Blue Ribbon Commission meeting and I can not recommend enough that you watch this.  There was a lot covered… but it eviscerated the image the sheriff has sent Hirokawa, Beliveau, and Sepulveda out there to convey. It felt almost like a brief moment of accountability that could possibly culminate into holding the sheriff accountable for this tragedy.

Sadly, while there were several calls that this be addressed from the top down as well as through recommendations, the call for change stopped at Undersheriff Hirokawa.  I’ve often stated that Hirokawa would be the fall guy on this despite his only real ability to make a decision as the “top” individual was in laundry, food, mail and warehousing. I suspect that is why he failed to keep his  announced date with retirement in December and now it appears to be timed near the end of the commission so his departure can be the beginning of the “change” and take the heat off the sheriff who has been the person truly in control of the office and the jails. I still believe that this entire structure continues to be a means to protect Sheriff Laurie Smith, as well as Supervisors David Cortese and Cindy Chavez for their actions regarding cutting the jails to save money all while ignoring the known risk to the lives and well-being of every person in our jails.

I wish the public could see the culture of the enforcement side is similarly damaged. This problem is not Hirokawa, but the entirety of the fourth floor, the absent sheriff, the incapacitated undersheriff, and the two (now three) assistant sheriffs whose only role is to micromanage nearly every decision to the sheriff’s often shifting demands based on her personal and emotional vendettas.

However, it did feel somewhat vindicating to finally see people understand the officers and deputies are just as at odds and wanting change as everyone else — inmates having “blanket parties” to attack deputies who are often alone in their duties among as many as 90 inmates, a state of mutual disrespect and disregard, a structure where even if a deputy wants to do the right thing, the administrative system has been built to make it as difficult as possible.  Deputies are just as subject to intimidation and retaliation for daring to do something that may catch the wrong administrator’s eyes — maybe more so given the statement by the investigator about nearly begging staff to speak to him and having a memo sent out.  I can imagine it was hard to keep a straight face when he said, “have you seen the memo…?”  Paper is meaningless in that office, in case none of them noticed the gap between policy and practice.  Oh. Wait. They did notice.

Anyway, there were so many points made and points of discussion I could have here on those points… and perhaps I will at some time… but for now, watch and digest. As always, I’m happy to share your thoughts here, either through your own blog post or comments below.

Documentation: Available documentation for the reports given can be found under #3 on the agenda at this location.

Video: the video recording of this meeting is located here. I’m not sure when it becomes available after the meeting, but I assume it will be up shortly. Also remember, you may need to go to an older version of firefox or other web browser. Sometimes it works in Chrome or IE, other times not.

Termination Analysis: I would also like to add a report I was just told is available on the DSA website, an analysis of the jail staff terminations made public by Laurie Smith.  You can download their report on the DSA website.


4 thoughts on “Blue Ribbon Commission – Study Session

  1. Pingback: Blue Ribbon Commission Exposures | Casey Thomas' World

  2. Thank you for your continued reporting on this tragic, for all involved, situation. Far too few in our community are paying attention.
    I was the person at the recent BRC calling for the replacement of the Chief of Correction. My reasoning is simple: Short of some dibilitating illness, Sheriff Smith will not step down, and neither will she be recalled. Most of our citizens just don’t care.
    However, the BoS has the authority to remove control of the Dept of Correction from the Sheriff and replace its soon-to-be-retiring Chief with a new leader, one who is not associated with the current administration in any way, one who has a demonstrated record of real and positive culture change.
    With continued persuasion applied to the BoS, I believe it can happen.


    • Ron, thank you for that clarification. I agree, the jails should again be put under a separate Chief with direct response to the Supervisors. I’ve discussed in another blog post that this can be done without having to bring it back to the voters, as Cortese attempted to claim otherwise at one point.

      I think that if people in the media, in office, and leaders within the community stopped making excuses for Smith because “she refuses” to step down, and publicly discuss the issue with transparency, perhaps people would start to care. Though honestly, I feel your pain when it comes to the election — no one cared. Unfortunately many of the leaders of the groups sitting on the commission endorsed our sheriff last election and bought into the “keystone cop, they don’t want to be held accountable” argument. Perhaps if the deputies and the circumstances *finally* got some of their attention, they can further the cause and get the attention of others.

      Why do I feel this is so important? Because while we can remove her from the jails again, that does nothing for the deteriorating enforcement side stuck to endure being the target of her revenge against the county. The department is already deteriorating — archaic policy, old equipment, data systems are pathetic, staffing is down 20% and falling, and she has 80 retirees, some well into their 60’s as the primary enforcement team in courts. She is in a war with the DSA over Pay Jobs because she refuses to meet with the DSA “because they hate her” according to her, and she’s taking questionably legal action there.

      The DSA has been trying to work towards body cams with her for roughly FIVE years. Well before Ferguson the deputies were wanting to advance technology and transparency. She has met with them ONCE in all that time regarding cameras. Is enforcement going to be forced to wait until they have their own Michael Tyree situation where there is no evidence, no cameras, no anything to protect them from an outraged public? Why? Why can we not say the Sheriff needs to step down because she’s refusing? At best we get enough pressure she does step down — at worst we have built an argument for the next election where she can NOT win because we have at least yelled from the rooftops as a community unit, in association with our deputies, that she is not qualified.

      We shouldn’t be standing here and saying “she won’t” and blaming someone else in the public eye until we’ve reached the point of San Jose — unable to keep qualified deputies, unable to hire qualified deputies, and the few we do get do their time in a training ground agency no one wants to stay in.

      Everyone needs to stop accommodating Laurie Smith’s incompetence because “nothing will change anyway.” I’ve heard that since I started this blog – and yes, little has changed, but it is starting to change. We need to use this forward movement to get all the change we can or our problems only get bigger.


  3. I know it’s very hard to keep up with all the failures coming out of the jails.

    Here you go:

    It’s okay, I won’t insult you in kind, you were clearly ignorant of the story despite it being on local news, and posted on the post from a few days ago which you clearly must have read before coming over to the most recent post to comment.


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