Retired judge LaDoris Cordell and a candidate for Santa Clara County sheriff, former Undersheriff John Hirokawa, called for Sheriff Laurie Smith to resign yesterday (April 3) over her actions in an internal affairs investigation 26 years ago and a report on her management of the county jail.
Cordell, a former Palo Alto City Councilwoman, called the report by an outside consultant “a convoluted puff piece” that points out some existing issues in the jail system like an increase in inmate grievances but ultimately commends Smith and her staff.
After the death of Santa Clara County jail inmate Michael Tyree in 2015, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution establishing a Blue Ribbon Commission On Improving Custody Operations. Cordell was chair of that commission.
The death of Tyree at the hands of three deputies is addressed by the report in a section entitled “reform,” which states, “As with many organizations, everything seemed OK — until a rather unbelievable act occurred.”
Following that sentence, Smith is complimented, as the report says, “Smith took action, commended by the community and controversial within the agency, that included a swift investigation and arrest of the deputies within the days of death.”
Euphemisms for beating death
The words “unauthorized and unsanctioned force” were used to describe the actions of former guards Jereh Lubrin, Rafael Rodriguez and Matthew Farris, who were ultimately convicted and sentenced for the beating death.
Hirokawa, who is challenging Smith in the June primary, called the survey conclusions of the jail-inmate climate two years after Tyree’s death “somewhat critical.”
Cordell said her commission called for a higher level of community involvement in regulating the jails moving forward, but the report contradicts the idea.
“In hindsight, some observers feel that the amount of community involvement, sometimes influenced by particular agendas, made it difficult to prioritize the issues that mattered most to an inmate’s care and custody,” the report states.
Smith contracted the consultant — GAR Inc., headed by retired Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney in Idaho — in September 2017 to compile the report, but Hirokawa said he was confused as to why a report like that wasn’t assigned to the blue ribbon commission.
“This is a propaganda piece for the re-election of Laurie Smith,” Hirokawa said.
The Board of Supervisors voted yesterday not to hear the report after hearing comments from Cordell and Hirokawa.
Late yesterday (April 3), Smith provided this statement to Channel 7: “It’s unfortunate the residents of Santa Clara County were denied the opportunity to hear from Gary Raney, a national expert and former Sheriff, during the Board of Supervisor’s full agenda today. Critics were quick to point out flaws in his report, yet Mr. Raney was not given the opportunity to describe the scope and process of his review in an open forum. His report provides an unbiased, data driven analysis of where we have come as an organization in regards to jail reform.”
1992 internal affairs case
At a news conference in the morning, Hirokawa also spoke in the wake of new allegations that Smith pulled an interview tape from an internal affairs investigation in 1992, hiding accusations that she had sexually harassed a colleague earlier on in her career.
“It wasn’t right 20 years ago, it isn’t right today, and she needs to be held accountable,” he said.
In asking if it should be suspicious to the public that the claims are surfacing before Smith’s seat is up in the June election, Hirokawa said that community members should not be criticizing the victims of sexual misconduct.
“The #MeToo cause is about protecting the victim. What procedures have we put in place?” he said. “Do I blame them for not coming forward before? I think you listen to their story.”
Hirokawa was asked why Smith should resign now when voters can decide in June whether to keep her for a sixth term. He said if she fails to win re-election, she would still hold the office until the start of next year.
— Bay City News