Editorial: Re-elect Laurie Smith as Santa Clara County sheriff

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith


It’s possible that Santa Clara County voters will get two chances this year to vote for sheriff.

With five candidates in the June 5 primary, it’s unlikely that any of them will reach the 50% threshold necessary to win the job outright. That means the top two vote-getters will have a run-off in November.

And that strikes us as a good thing. Campaigns compel the public to study the issues in a race before they vote. Two campaigns, one right now and another this fall, will bring more attention to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, which has 2,025 employees and a budget of $437 million including the jail.

It’s a serious job that requires a large toolbox of skills.

The sheriff is in charge of the jails in San Jose and Milpitas. The sheriff’s deputies patrol unincorporated parts of the county and provide all police services to Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, Cupertino and VTA on a contract basis. The sheriff also bestows law enforcement authority to Stanford’s police, though that department is funded by the university.

To sort through the list of candidates, our first filter is experience. We need a sheriff who has years of law enforcement experience, both on the streets and in the jails. The sheriff has to be an administrator who can manage multi-million-dollar budgets. The sheriff needs to be an HR expert, a labor negotiator and have a solid understanding of the law.

Only two candidates have the requisite experience — incumbent Laurie Smith, who is seeking her 6th four-year term, and her former undersheriff, John Hirokawa, who has retired.

A focus on the jail

The campaign has focused on the 2015 murder of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree by three guards in the San Jose jail, which was run by Smith and Hirokawa. At the time, Hirokawa was Chief of Correction.

Immediately after Tyree’s death, Smith had the three deputies arrested. They were charged, put on trial and convicted. After an incident like this, there’s a tendency by politicians to launch a coverup and hide from the cameras. But Smith was aggressive in bringing the three guards to justice and pushing for changes in the jail to prevent such an attack from happening again.

That has resulted in more psychologists and psychiatrists in the jails, more training for guards on mental health issues and a new system for handling the grievances of inmates.

Shifting the blame

In an interview with the Post, Hirokawa — who was running the jail at the time of Tyree’s murder — wanted to shift the blame to Smith. But he didn’t offer much in the way of ideas to improve the jail’s operation.

The contrast between Smith and Hirokawa is clear — she took responsibility for the death and moved forward with ways to prevent it from happening again. Hirokawa tried to blame somebody else and doesn’t have a plan to move forward.


While the jail and Tyree’s murder have been the focus of the campaign, a couple of Smith’s accomplishments have been overlooked.

• It was her deputies that brought the killer of Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar to justice. Antolin Garcia Torres, 26, was convicted last May of first-degree murder even though LaMar’s body was never found.

• And it was Smith’s deputies who arrested the three teenage boys who sexually assaulted Audrie Pott of Saratoga High School, who took her own life after she learned her attackers had posted nude photos of her online.

Of the five candidates, we think Smith is the strongest of the candidates and we’re pleased to recommend her for re-election.
— Editor Dave Price

Other Post recommendations
No on recalling Judge Persky
Cindy Hendrickson for Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge
No on Regional Measure 3, the toll hike
Re-elect San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Buchwald
Carlos Bolanos for San Mateo County Sheriff
Nancy Magee for San Mateo County Office of Education superintendent


  1. Wow… truth has got nothing on you folks. WTF?! What alternative universe do you live in exactly? There are so many mistruths, lies, and reconstructed realities in there I don’t even know where to begin. Mr. Price, you don’t deserve to own a paper if this is the kind of “truth” you feel the public deserves. You should be booted out the front door and down the steps of the House of the Fourth Branch. You’re an embarrassment.

  2. Are you kidding? Laurie Smith is a TERRIBLE Sheriff! She lets criminals get away with so much, it’s unreal. Crime is going up….. and criminals are going FREE in Santa Clara Courts. VOTE NO and let’s get someone in there who can do the job and give our police the ability to actually put criminals where they belong- IN JAIL!

  3. “Joe Smith,” you are aware that crime rates have been headed downward locally and across the nation since the early 1990s? You might refer to page 10 of this report from the DA’s office to refresh your memory. https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/newsroom/newsreleases/Documents/2017NRDocs/CSU%202016%20Annual%20Report%20Final.pdf

    And, Joe, as knowledgeable about the criminal justice system as you are, I’m sure you’re aware that the sheriff in any county doesn’t decide how long a prisoner is held. For pre-trial incarceration, the issue is whether a defendant can make bail, and the bail amount is determined by the courts with input from the DA. For those who are sentenced, the jail term is determined by the judge and by statute. The sheriff doesn’t set any defendant’s sentence.

    You also accuse Sheriff Smith of not allowing police to put “criminals” in jail. Since you’re an expert on the local justice system, this should be an easy question for you to answer. When did this happen? Who was the “criminal” she turned away?

  4. I worked as a Deputy Sheriff in Santa Clara County for twelve years before having to take a disability retirement. The Correction Officers that work in the jails are NOT Deputies and do not have the same training as Deputies. Back in 1988 the Dept. of Corrections was split off from the Sheriff’s Office because the Board of Supervisors felt it would be more “cost-effective” to hire “Correction Officers” to work the jails and move the Deputies out of the jails and back on the streets.

    When the County initially hired these new “Correction Officers”, background checks were either sketchy or never done, and several of the new hires were found to be felons. Hiring, training, investigating and going through numerous Skelly Hearings, then terminating these felons was not too cost-effective for Santa Clara County.

    I personally know Sheriff Smith – I have been mistaken twice by TV newscasters thinking I was Sheriff Smith, and wanting to interview me (she’s a year older than I, and I am the taller of the two).

    I am also aware that Sheriff Smith’s daughter, Shannon, was convicted of a felony in the Lake Tahoe area for breaking into coin-operated washers/dryers with her boyfriend when she was supposed to be in school in Hawaii (mid-nineties). Next thing I hear was that Shannon transferred to Santa Clara University and that the Smiths purchased a condo near the campus – no jail time. Did Sheriff Smith pull some strings here???

    And what about the two lawsuits filed against the Sheriff’s Office by Sheriff Smith when she was a “Matron”?

    Someone needs to check their sources . . .

    I also know Capt. Hirokawa and served with him when he was a sergeant. He has children, but I’ve never heard of any arrests, just their accomplishments.

  5. Jose Salcido is the clear choice for Sheriff. He was in charge of the Jails, under A sheriff’s Captain, in the Jail Administration Division. No inmates were murdered under his watch as is the case of John Hirokawa and Laurie Smith. Attempting to distance themselves on the operations of the Sheriff’s Department by blaming each other for its shortcomings appears to be working with your paper. Laurie and John both had the Jail Administration Division cut, after she took control of the jails and left a skeleton crew of Sheriffs Sergeants. These Sergeants were on the decks checking to see what the officers were doing and signing logs. She replaced them with Correctional Sergeants to pay back the Deputy Sheriff’s Association for not endorsing her. When was the last time the Sergeant checked the dorm Michael Tyree was housed in and what time? It’s time to remove this Sheriff and restore confidence and integrity to the Office of the Sheriff. Vote Jose Salcido.

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