SAN JOSE, CA -- On November 3rd, 2022 former Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith was found guilty of corruption and willful misconduct civil charges by a civil grand jury. Among the charges was the intentional blocking of a civilian auditor investigation into the brutal, permanently damaging, and life debilitating injuries suffered by Andrew Hogan while in jail custody. The probe was intended to find how and why an already initiated internal affairs investigation into Mr. Hogan’s case was suppressed before it reached and shared conclusions of culpability. Despite the Sheriff’s Office intent to hide information regarding the incident, Mr. Hogan was awarded 10 million dollars in a civil suit against the county.
Our SV De-Bug community - comprising the families of the incarcerated, those who are formerly incarcerated in the Santa Clara County jails, and those currently held in custody - are not surprised by the grand jury findings of corruption and misconduct. In fact, our families have been calling for accountability of the former Sheriff and the entire Sheriff’s department for years. The ongoing abuses in the jail, the deprivation of human rights, the utter lack of transparency and accountability has defined Smith’s “leadership” and the culture of the Sheriff’s department through the duration of her tenure.
The years of call to action from those in custody and their families should now be understood as even more courageous given the retaliatory, vindictive, and dangerously corrupt system that was holding captive thousands of our community members.
And while the grand jury verdict is an affirmation of what those inside and their families have been saying, we are under no delusion that Smith removal equates to the ending of harm and suffering that is endemic to the Santa Clara County jail system. Smith and her management team have spent decades fostering a culture of abuse that is so entrenched, it is inextricable to what incarceration means in Santa Clara County.
As such, to think that concerns of human rights violations, violence, and abuse would vanish in the jail system with the departure of Smith is intellectually dishonest. And those who believe her removal clears the path for the county to invest millions into a new jail free and unburdened by the controversy of her corruption also are short-sighted in their carceral aspirations. Unequivocally, a new jail will only be a new structure for the same oppressive conditions to occur, regardless of who is the new Sheriff.
The backdrop of the grand jury findings of the Sheriff’s willful misconduct shows that the damage and potential lethality of incarceration happens even with formal accountability measures in place. Jail abuse happened after a County Blue Ribbon Commission was in place, was under a federal consent decree, while a civilian oversight body was contracted by the county.
The only safe way to respond to the dangers of incarceration is to reduce the number of people exposed to its harm.
The grand jury’s guilty verdict of Laurie Smith should be another point of evidence that the long standing claims of misconduct by the Sheriff’s Office were validated. And as the calls of corruption by the community were found to be true, so as well should the community’s larger truth that the jails are inherently abusive.
The County must invest in a strategy of decarceration, reduce its current jail population, and finally end the carceral compulsion to build yet another jail.
When history reflects back on this moment, it will understand Laurie Smith as a symptom of the system of incarceration. And for our county to be solution-based, we must interrogate, dismantle, and move away from this problematic system.