Sheriff fires back at critics, says car-sex incident is fiction

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

In an interview with the Post yesterday (April 26), Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith flatly denied allegations that she tried to have a sexual encounter with a subordinate officer in 1992 and interfered in a gender discrimination investigation brought by the same officer.

The Mercury News reported on April 1 that in 1992, then-Assistant Sheriff Smith went into the sheriff’s Internal Affairs office and demanded a cassette tape containing an interview with now-retired Sgt. Gary Brady.

The tape was part of an investigation into a gender discrimination complaint he filed after being removed from a prestigious, three-year drug task force assignment.

Smith didn’t deny that she took the tape, but said she delivered it to the county’s Equal Opportunity Division to investigate the discrimination complaint. She said Brady was one of eight employees who were transferred out of the task force. She said the transfers weren’t under her purview and that the 1992 investigation had nothing to do with her.

“Anytime there’s any management-level person, or someone at a lower level like a (Deputy Sheriffs’ Association union) president or something like that, we’ll farm out the investigation. We won’t do it internally,” Smith told the Post. “The tape had nothing to do with me, and it’s interesting that if there were allegations of sex against me, why wouldn’t he have said it in ‘92?”

In 1996, Brady filed another complaint and, according to the Mercury News, told an internal affairs sergeant that four years before, Smith had taken off her clothes and initiated a sexual encounter in an unmarked police car during a three-day law enforcement conference in San Mateo County.

Brady said he cut the encounter short, angering Smith and leading her to pull him off the assignment. But Smith said she never had any kind of personal relationship — they weren’t even friends, she said.

“I doubt I was ever in a car with him,” Smith said.

Smith was cleared in both investigations, and when the story leaked as she ran for sheriff for the first time in 1998, she said the complaint was an attack on her because of her gender.

Smith said the supposed sexual encounter wasn’t even mentioned in either of Brady’s complaints.

Retired Santa Clara County sheriff’s Sgt. Gary Brady, left, with sheriff candidate Jose Salcido at the September birthday party of former sheriff’s Lt. Armand Triano, who was convicted of fraud and child molestation. Brady has accused Sheriff Laurie Smith of retaliating against him for cutting off a sexual encounter in 1992. Photo provided by Assistant Sheriff Rick Sung, who said he got it from the Facebook profile of one of the deputies in the photo.
Retired Santa Clara County sheriff’s Sgt. Gary Brady, left, with sheriff candidate Jose Salcido at the September birthday party of former sheriff’s Lt. Armand Triano, who was convicted of fraud and child molestation. Brady has accused Sheriff Laurie Smith of retaliating against him for cutting off a sexual encounter in 1992. Photo provided by Assistant Sheriff Rick Sung, who said he got it from the Facebook profile of one of the deputies in the photo.

“Both complaints were exactly the same. There was not a hint of sex in either of them. Period,” Smith said. “It’s like a three- or four-page document where he talks about gender discrimination: ‘He was moved because he was a man. A woman got to stay there. Everybody who works narcotics likes him better than they like her. He has open cases.’”

Why did the story surface now?

Smith suggested that Brady had told his story to the Mercury News now to help her challenger Jose Salcido’s campaign. Brady and Salcido were seen in a photo together in September at the birthday party of former Lt. Armand Tiano, who served time in prison for fraud and child molestation.

“They’ve been peddling the story for 20 years,” Smith said, referring to her political opponents.

Two of Smith’s challengers in the June 5 race, retired Undersheriff John Hirokawa and Deputy Joe LaJeunesse, condemned Smith’s behavior in taking the tape.

“The relevancy for me is about the use and abuse of power, of being in charge of that unit, having a complaint lodged against you and then removing the tape,” Hirokawa said, noting that he knows Pat Verzosa, the civilian secretary who wrote a memo at the time about Smith removing the tape.

Hirokawa said Verzosa was “very highly regarded, very trustworthy.”

LaJeunesse said he believes Smith took the interview tape, but doesn’t know if he believes Brady’s allegation because he doesn’t have all the information. He also condemned anyone in the sheriff’s office who knew about her conduct at the time, but waited to come forward until this year.

Hirokawa noted that he was a deputy in 1992 and didn’t know “a lot of these things” until the story broke this month. He said he Brady worked as deputies in East San Jose and said he was a good narcotics cop.

“I’m not saying he was a perfect guy. I didn’t know him to be a liar, either, but I just don’t know,” Hirokawa said.

Brady told the Mercury News that he came forward about his gender discrimination and sexual harassment complaint in part because of the Me Too movement.

16 Comments

  1. Bringing up decades-old complaints seems a little desperate on the part of Smith’s opponents and the Mercury News. The campaign should be about policies currently in place in the Sheriff’s Office. I’d like to know where the candidates stand on racial profiling, cooperation with ICE, traffic enforcement in neighborhoods, etc.

    • Why is it “desperate?” Certainly many criminals -including priests in Massachusetts have been convicted on “decades old complaints.” Dismissing something as too old is a very shop-worn and very tired argument that doesn’t wash in this day and age

  2. I’m not sure why the issue surrounding the tape is a big deal. She wanted an outside investigator to look at the grievance rather than dealing with it in-house. If the in-house investigator cleared the department, people would criticize that outcome saying the investigators were too cozy with the department’s brass. Why is the tape an issue?

    • The issue is the tape was evidence in an investigation that she was the subject of. That is 100% inappropriate and most would get fired for that level of interference in an investigation. If the department wanted an outside investigation or the County to look into someone, anyone else should have delivered the tape. The point is Laurie should have NEVER abused her power and took the tape. How can she be trusted anymore.
      As for the other allegations, if there is any truth to them, any at all she should leave. Given the other allegations and the fact it appears she abused her power and position, I believe Brady. And it doesn’t matter if it was 20 years or 20 days, this type of behavior can’t be tolerated #metoo.

      • She should have NEVER took the tape. That’s like giving a suspect the interviews, (evidence) of the victims and witnesses. Laurie Smith should have never took the tape in the first place. Read the article “Tale of the Tape” in the Merc and then decide. I will not vote for her again and I hope others do not either.

        • From reading the two articles on this subject, the Mercury’s and the Post’s, it appears she was handing the investigation over to an independent third party. What’s wrong with that? Do you really want the sheriff’s office investigating the sheriff? An analogy that comes to mind is the issue of Russians influencing Trump’s election. Do you want Trump’s Justice Dept. investigating that or a neutral third party like Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

    • I’m not involved in this situation, but as a taxpayer and a citizen, I like the idea of an independent agency doing this kind of investigation. I think Sheriff Smith should be applauded for taking the tape and sending it to the Equal Opportunity Office. I don’t see anything sinister or corrupt about it.

      • EEOC does not investigate internal matters in the Sheriff’s Dept. They have no authority to discipline peace officers. Only the department itself can do that under the Government Code. EEOC can conduct a parallel investigation, in which case they could ask for a COPY of the tape. The original is evidence and must remain in the custody of the Internal Affairs Division. I can express how far out of bounds Smith was by even going to the IA office, let alone taking the tape. If you read the full story in the Mercury, it is only her word that she even took it to EEOC as no one there knows anything about it. Why would you believe her?

        • She was talking about the County Equal Opportunity office, not the federal EEOC. Important difference. The County office has authority to investigate discrimination complaints.

  3. Javier, Smith says she wasn’t the subject of the investigation that involved the tape. She said it was a complaint about Brady’s transfer from the narcotics unit, not the incident in the car. Can you disprove that?

    • Conner, please go the Merc and read the article “Tale of the Tape”, in it you will see the facts, via statements of employees who were there at the time to support my statement. But here is a piece: “Shortly after that interview, Smith approached Verzosa, the unit’s secretary, and asked to see the internal affairs activity log, saying she’d heard Brady made a complaint about her, Verzosa said. The secretary said that after examining the log, Smith demanded the tape, which had been locked in a file cabinet. Smith was the top administrator over internal affairs and the narcotics task force at the time.

      “She made me go get it,’’ Verzosa said in the recent interview. “I was totally surprised and nervous.’’ That statement was from the secretary assigned to Internal Affairs at the time.

      So if there is even a slight chance Verzosa’s statements are true , in addition to the other facts in the story, do you really want the Chief Law Enforcement Official of the County to have those morals? It is time for a change! Five terms riddled with scandals, escapes, deaths and political favors for her friends is enough.

  4. There is a process to make that happen; the investigation was working towards that direction without her interference. Going in and demanding the tape from an administrative member of the team while a subject of the investigation is ILLEGAL and a violation of every common sense investigative practice possible. A person who had reached the rank of assistant sheriff would know that, one would hope.

    No one should be surprised and no one should question that this is simply the ugly roots of a twisted tree that has been allowed to grow to long by voters. One only has to go back to last year to see she was removed from oversight of the Medical Examiner’s Office after they accused her publicly of interfering in their independent investigations involving fatalities in the jails.

    My biggest question is why is the media going back 30 years when they can go back less than 30 months? So people like you can continue to dismiss the reality of Smith and her abuse of her power?

  5. Conner, the complaint was about Gary Brady, the retired sergeant whose complaints implicating Smith led to two Internal Affairs investigations. He went public with his claims that Smith sexually harassed him. No findings of wrongdoing ever emerged from the investigations, but two people have come forward to support key parts of Brady’s account — Ron Clark, the retired Internal Affairs sergeant who investigated one of the complaints, and Pat Verzosa, the civilian secretary who wrote the memo about the then-assistant sheriff’s demand that she hand over the tape of Brady’s interview.

    I hope this helps answer your question.

  6. I’d believe Brady’s allegations if he had made them closer to the alleged incident in the car. But if I understand this correctly, he filed a grievance over his transfer against then sheriff Chuck Gillingham in 1992. His complaint was denied. Then, four years later, he makes his claims about Smith taking off her clothes in his car. Why did he wait four years? The answer can’t be that he was afraid of retaliation because he had already filed a complaint in 1992. My guess is that he wanted to re-litigate his 1992 complaint by adding a new detail that would force the county to pay him some sort of settlement. But it appears that neither of his complaints went anywhere. Now he’s gone to the Mercury News. It doesn’t smell right if you ask me.

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