Victims In Santa Clara County Are Not Safe

Today I’m here because my heart is breaking over yet another rape case in the county that has been grossly mishandled, this time at Stanford. For those of you arguing that the victim was drunk at a party and holds her own liability, there is a video about consent by UK law enforcement. I seriously suggest you watch it.

The results of the Stanford rape case and sentencing of Brock Turner immediately brought back shades of De Anza, and that struck home because De Anza is the reason I have this blog going. I would say that rape is handled as a “less than” crime, but the reality is, in Santa Clara County the sheriff treats all crimes as less than. There are hundreds of uninvestigated cases — including assaults against women — that have been neglected by investigations. There is a captain who, despite the problems continues to fail to lead his department and create a process to successfully track cases from the moment they come in until they’re closed. I guess he doesn’t just pretend he’s Captain America, he also pretends he’s a sheriff’s captain. He demands everyone call him “Cap” — someone needs to tell him nicknames are earned and “Cap” is not the nickname he’s been given, with good reason. But to be fair, the failure to track cases goes back years, identified in 2003 with other issues, and is a known problem the sheriff has failed to address for over a decade.

It is a real problem and recently we heard the sheriff has further degraded the ability of Investigations trying to shore up the staffing disaster in courts.

Where does end? When all the dominoes fall? When we have a complete failure? When someone important and powerful is the victim? At what point do we stop looking past De Anza, Audrie Pott, Sierra LaMar and now Stanford and demand accountability from the sheriff and those who continue to protect her through their positions on the Board of Supervisors?

The sheriff tried to contain the identity of a rapist. What made Brock Turner worthy of the sheriff’s assistance in anything beyond what he’s legally entitled to while in her care? A man who assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. A man who ensuing reports say court documentation indicates this wasn’t the first inappropriate behavior he’s had towards a woman recently.

De Anza, I get a pit in my stomach every time I think of the parallels. There were some sons of locally powerful people that were accused in De Anza case, one of them was the son of a well known sports figure. This was pretty much well hidden from the public. Power gains protection, we knew the local power base was involved in the De Anza case, I hope it’s only a matter of time before the ties come out here… someone knew someone. Why else would a sheriff who has run on being female, supporting females, and fighting for equality for females, protect an accused rapist from broad public identification?

When it became clear that the evidentiary collection had failed so catastrophically as to not be able to support charges in the De Anza case, a civil case was filed against the members of the De Anza College baseball team, the case ended up in front of Judge Aaron Persky. The judge shouldn’t have allowed evidence that was little more than character assassination of the victim. What a victim wears 6 months later, what a victim does sexually with consent should become irrelevancies when they are unconscious, being assaulted by multiple people who should be able to clearly identify she’s unconscious, and have to have someone fight to get into a room to get them out of the situation. Just like he shouldn’t have made a suspect’s age the predominant consideration in sentencing a violent criminal for 6 months rather than 6 years.

The witnesses who spotted the suspect and stopped him are to be heralded and thanked. They didn’t just ride on by. Just like the witnesses in the De Anza case — the assaults were stopped and the suspects stopped because people saw what was happening was wrong and acted on it. In Stanford the suspect tried to run; in the De Anza case the suspects tried to keep the witnesses from entering the room and stopping the assault.

I am crying as I write this, and I want to scream when I think that the same outcome has happened again. Yes, at least there will be a few months in jail, and he does have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. So what. So he can’t be an Olympic swimmer. So what. His victim has had her peace of mind stolen, her trust in humanity violated. He can’t swim professionally. She has had every momentary relationship with any male walking past her on the street forever altered into a moment of insecurity and extreme wariness. He can’t ever teach students to be swimmers. Oh, how the poor man will suffer. Six years would be a small price to pay in comparison to the price she will pay, probably for much of her life. The outcome is the same because there has been no justice provided the victims or the public that expects to live in a community where criminal behavior is responded to in a measured and appropriate manner — not too much, not too little.

And in this all, again, stands our Sheriff Laurie Smith. The woman who is (I hope it’s being taken seriously) being investigated for misconduct, it was reported just Friday that the County Executive is seeking to remove the Sheriff’s Office from the contract oversight position of the Coroner’s Office after so many in-custody deaths, including the death of Walter Roches which many still question the veracity of the autopsy report.

Oh, speaking of contract oversight, did I mention, the sheriff attempted to blame the Stanford Public Safety Department for refusing to release the booking photo?  We’ll put aside the fact that the sheriff is in control of the jails and booking photos are very often released out of the jails regardless of arresting agency. But did we forget something here? Something the media may not realize? Isn’t the Stanford department overseen and managed under contract to her office by and Sheriff’s Office captain? The Sheriff’s organization chart shows that a Captain Frank Zacharisen heads the Stanford University Dept of Public Safety (SUDPS), their badge states they are working under the authority of the sheriff, and the SUDPS site states they have an MOU with the Sheriff’s Office to extend full law enforcement powers to their personnel. The back and forth about who was responsible for releasing the booking photo appears to have been little more than a distraction effort to confuse the media.

Honestly, in hindsight, at least SUDPS hasn’t bowed to the sheriff and a solid investigation was done. If this had no oversight of any other organization, would it have ended up as poorly done as De Anza? Would we even be having this discussion?  If we did would it consist of a handful screaming into the void, unheard, like we have so many other times? Thankfully, we can only speculate on that.

People are calling for Aaron Persky’s head. But no one locally who should know the role the sheriff has played in both these cases is calling for the sheriff to be recalled.

It’s time for Sheriff Laurie Smith to do the right thing, hang up her uniform and go home. The victims of Santa Clara County who have no money or political power deserve better.

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