UPDATE: Santa Clara County Supervisors Unanimously Support 'No Confidence' Vote for Sheriff Laurie Smith
SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to support a resolution declaring no confidence in Sheriff Laurie Smith, joining a growing number of South Bay officials demanding her resignation.
Santa Clara County Sheriff Smith has been under fire in recent years for a number of scandals connected to her department, including alleged mismanagement of the county jail and charges of bribery and corruption.
KPIX reporter Kiet Do broke the news about the resolution on Twitter shortly after 1 p.m.
"Do you really want to reinforce, reward applaud, this bad behavior? I have to believe the answer to those questions is 'no,'" Sup. Joe Simitian said Tuesday about the scandals linked to the sheriff's department.
Supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Simitian detailed Smith's wrongdoings in a seven-page memo and pointed to 37 different elements to justify a vote of no confidence.
Smith has said the memo was riddled with false accusations and misleading information.
While Smith maintained she has some blame and responsibility for jail conditions, her accusatory tone indicated that systemic problems in mental health services and the criminal legal system were unfairly placed on her.
"You tasked me with being your bandaid and now you're placing blame and not taking responsibility," Smith said to the board ahead of the vote.
In her opinion, most of the mismanagement and horrible conditions were the fault of the Board of Supervisors and their "inaction or inability to know" how to address such systemic issues.
Smith said at least a quarter of the county's jail population were those with mental health problems and emphasized they were thrown in jail by the District Attorney's Office because no other alternatives exist.
"Currently, we have 47 people in custody who will stay in jail until a treatment bed becomes available. This is a low number, sometimes that number is as many as 100," Smith said.
She pointed to a 2018 study by the California Hospital Association that found, of the nine counties with 1 million-plus population, Santa Clara County had the third-lowest number of acute care inpatient beds per 100,000 residents.
"How do you expect us to deal with people with mental health illness in the criminal justice system when we do not have alternatives?" Smith asked the board. "You (the board) are responsible first in acknowledging there's a problem and then understanding that you must deal with the problem. It's a public health crisis, not a criminal justice crisis."
She instead threw her support behind reinvesting funding sources into building a new psychiatric hospital or mental health facility instead of a new jail -- a call echoed by many of the same coalitions, social justice organizations and residents who spoke during public comment who ironically also supported the vote of no confidence.
"If you don't address the real problem here of mental health, we do need a new jail, but enough is enough," Smith said. "The estimate for a new jail is a staggering amount of $390 million for 535 beds. Do not build a jail."
Smith said the $390 million could instead build 960 beds in a psychiatric hospital that the county desperately needs.
The call was a stark contrast to Smith's support for a new jail two weeks ago at a news conference she held after San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called for her resignation.
Despite the shift, Simitian called Smith's calls to address the mental health crisis in the county to be disingenuous.
"I am disappointed and frankly somewhat offended by the fact that folks with such great need would be used in a way to conflate and confuse the issue ... in an effort to divert and deflect and deny responsibility," Simitian said.
He continued that while Smith's read on mental health services, or lack thereof, is correct, it is not an excuse for the case of mentally ill resident Michael Tyree, who was beaten to death by three officers while in county custody, "and that our county taxpayers were obliged to approve a $3.6 million settlement, presumably because there was negligence and liability on the part of the institution."
Simitian also pointed to a couple of scandals the sheriff is allegedly involved in, including pay-to-play allegations that gun permits were provided to those who contributed to her campaign, and a scheme to evade the provisions of the Political Reform Act involving tickets at the Shark Tank at the SAP Center.
"It is not a mental health issue that a member of the sheriff's own department testified under oath at a criminal grand jury hearing of (the Shark Tank) scheme," Simitian said. "It is not a mental health issue that three people have already pled guilty to participating in a contributions-for-gun-permit scheme, as is documented in the resolution."
And Smith's "repeated and widespread refusal" to participate and testify during investigations of the scandal is also not a reflection of systemic issues, Simitian said.
Part of the no confidence vote also outlines a retirement and succession plan for Smith -- a last minute addition by Supervisor Otto Lee that was opposed by Smith.
"There's serious significant contributions from our Sheriff having worked with us for 47 years and I think that needs to be recognized," Lee said.
A well-planned transition from Smith to her successor would also "minimize the interruptions, animosity, and enhance the continual building relationships and instill trust," Lee's memo read.
Earlier this month, Simitian and fellow County Supervisor Otto Lee demanded an investigation into the sheriff's office following millions of dollars in payouts to settle injury litigation from men in county custody.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called for Smith's resignation Aug. 16 over allegations of poor jail management, lack of transparency and accountability, as well as several bribery and corruption scandals. In doing so, Liccardo joined a long list of local leaders who have criticized Smith.
The following day, Smith held a press conference where she methodically refuted allegations and said she will not resign.
The press conference Smith held on Aug. 17 was the first time she responded to Liccardo's calls for her to step down. It took 45 minutes for her to say she would not resign, and the statement didn't come until after reporters asked her to respond to Liccardo urging her resignation.
"I didn't see his press conference, I have heard of it of course. And we're going to do these investigations," said Smith. "Let's see what the truth is. At this time, no. Or to quote a general, 'Nuts!' There's a lot still to be done"
Smith's allusion to a general's quote was a reference to U.S. Army Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, who famously sent the same one-word response to German commanders demanding his surrender at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
Smith has been the sheriff since 1998. South Bay leaders say her reputation has been tarnished for years.
For most of the press conference, Sheriff Smith talked about progress at the jail under her watch. She says her department has been at the helm of meaningful change even with the current staffing shortage. Smith said they are about 133 employees short, including health professionals. She welcomed any investigation into how the jail has been run.
"Since there continues to be a lot of speculation and inferences, I welcome any and all investigations. It really is important to have experts provide an in-depth review of some of the things that have been stated so we can get the true facts," Smith said.
The board does not have the authority to remove Smith from office, as is noted in the resolution, which is a public statement by the board. The resolution is proposed by supervisors Simitian and Susan Ellenberg.
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