The Santa Clara County Standard for Failure in Law Enforcement

Sheriff Laurie Smith has overseen possibly a record number of scandals and tragedies in the past few years, and somehow she is still standing. At one point she was her own embarrassment and failure, but now the community has no one to blame but themselves that she is still standing. People have died, been permanently injured, suffered a lack of justice and still the media continues to promote our “quality” sheriff.

The other day all our media outlets ran a PR piece for the sheriff about how she’s some kind of hero for finally putting cameras in the jails, something a Civil Grand Jury pointed out as an issue over 10 years ago and I have documentation from the sheriff’s office showing was a concern of enforcement supervision in the jails as long as 15 years ago. You won’t hear mention of any of that or that while she’s replacing cameras she’s not creating policy and a functional means of implementing it. You certainly won’t hear that there is no solid policy of storing and documenting video and in light of my recently being shown 2 separate cases where evidence was buried and no investigation occurred, this is a concern. The integrity of evidence is critical.

And we can’t forget, this was the great opportunity to introduce the media to the man who is about to be their new Undersheriff, aka the Most Hated Man in the Office. The public doesn’t know it yet, but reports are that it was announced in a recent staff meeting that as of next month, he will be promoted. Captain Sung, a person who is allegedly under investigation for funneling money through a family run non-profit into the sheriff’s campaign, will be promoted to Ass. Sheriff. Makes a deputy damned proud to work in an office where those fired for cause from other offices litter the ranks of Captain all the way up to the fourth floor. We will now have 2 Ass. Sheriffs and at least one captain who were released from other agencies yet climbed the ranks in record time here — where’s the media report on that?

We can’t get nearly as complete coverage on the fact the sheriff may have interfered with the death investigation of Walter Roches and others (1 article in the Milpitas Post comes up in a search). We barely got any coverage on the mishandling of Alzheimer’s patient, Valdimir Matyssik (only 2 sources appeared to have done pieces on that). Virtually none of our media outlets have done a comprehensive story of the easily documented decline of the jails under the management of Sheriff Laurie Smith. The under staffing issue has gone virtually uncovered even as the sheriff is negotiating another 25 contract positions with the VTA which will leave enforcement significantly short staffed for at least another year. The slew of investigations that have gone uninvestigated has remained out of control for more than a decade. Our latest, near-all rookie team of investigators in Major Crimes Unit (you know the folks who are supposed to be the cream of the crop, laden with years of investigative experience) kicks back and hangs out to watch TV all day (we all know where to go to get game updates now, don’t we?) behind a locked door with a covered window and the lack of investigative follow through remains unmentioned as does the lack of improvement in tracking and closing cases since that last audit in 2003. And who can forget what many would consider downright corrupt if not criminal, her attempts to manipulate the Chair of a county blue ribbon commission that was theoretically supposed to investigate why there was such a major failure in our jails.  The deputies asked for an investigation into her actions by the county months ago. To the best of my knowledge they’ve received no response to date and the media hasn’t followed up at all to see if the county intends to look into the actions of the sheriff. Nor has anyone shown any concern that the sheriff may have colluded with the person who is now the president of one of the unions, another corrupt and possibly illegal action.

I am still wondering how one person just got promoted to lieutenant despite having hundreds of open cases on his desk, most of which had never even seen a cursory investigation and the media is clueless as to the number of victims walking around who will never even see an investigator. Particularly in a department where the Captain suggests you don’t be promoted because you don’t look good enough in your uniform. You would think where there’s smoke, there is fire… but the media would have to go against our sheriff to find the fire. No, not even a case that “fell through the cracks” kicks up that journalistic curiosity in this county. And when the sheriff promises to look into how the case was handled… no one ever comes to the door later to hold her to her word and see if she did. They just take a pack of excuses — we were sooooo busy. Well if you were that busy, how many other cases didn’t get follow through, Sheriff Smith?  Oh, wait, we don’t question the sheriff.

But the media is there when the sheriff snaps her fingers and says “look at me!” We have report after report documenting the sheriff’s failures in the jails. We have votes of no confidence from the deputies. We have had every single agency (except SJPD who was angling for their own personal option to double dip for their retiring personnel) in the county refuse to support her in the last election.

I decided to look into how other agencies, police and sheriff, deal with poor leadership in their communities. It seems virtually everywhere else it takes far less to demand a poor leader leave office than it does here.
Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton – forced to retire mid-term after deputies union issues vote of “no confidence” and the county beginning an investigation into his treatment of employees. Letters had been written to the county by sheriff’s employees seeking protection for fear of retaliation for participating in the inquiry into the sheriff.  (Interestingly enough, in a similar vein, it’s my understanding from the County Building that the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors have been debating how to handle a whistleblower program for deputies.  On the flip side of that, I’ve also been told that conversation is something like a year old and has made virtually no real progress.  Color me shocked.  Maybe I can go to the media to find out more?  Oh… wait.)
Oakland Interim Police Chief Ben Farrow – fired after 6 days when Mayor Libby Schaaf found out he had an affair decades ago. She felt it inappropriate for him to lead her agency in the midst of a sex scandal. She fired three cheifs in a period of just days for far lesser offenses than we’ve seen in our sheriff’s office.
San Francisco PD Chief – resigned after a more than 30 year career with the agency. The agency was embroiled in two separate texting scandals involving racism and there had been several fatal shootings over the year of men armed with knives.
Oakland Chief of Police Sean Whent – forced out for mismanagement in the midst of a sex scandal involving multiple officers involved in soliciting prostitution and statutory rape.
Falmouth Chief of Police Benny Johnson – let go for “lack of leadership, ineffective leadership and inability to effectively work with the office of the mayor, which constitute inefficiency and ineffectiveness under the general employment policies of the city which were determined as detrimental to the city,” after a large number of resignations from the small department.
Moore County Sheriff Neil Godfrey stepped down after an investigation into failure to perform his official duties began by the state bureau of investigations. We can’t get an investigation into the sheriff, even she openly breaks the law, people turn their backs because the only political hero in this county is one that keeps their mouths shut.
Chief Michael Mann of Coconut Creek, FL steps down after suspect dies after use of stun gun.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca — resigned amidst jail scandals involving misconduct and corruption. Ultimately convicted of attempting to interfere with the investigation. We all know the story of Sheriff Laurie Smith’s friend Lee Bacca.  Yes, even LA has their eyes more open than we do here in the braintrust of the nation.
Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson – forced to step down after jail abuses, use of force issues, and an unreasonably large number of active internal affairs investigations indicating serious problems at many levels.
Fox Lake Police Chief Michael Behan resigns after questions involving an internal investigation into a confrontation between an officer and a citizen and ” how decisions regarding findings and discipline were reached.”

It seems to me that it takes far, far less to raise the ire of the media in communities with a poor law enforcement leader than it does here.  Why? Why has no one outside the Sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement in the county called for this sheriff, who has exhibited more failed leadership and corruption than anyone above with the possible exception of Lee Bacca, to step down?


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