Boiling contention in sheriff’s race

Kevin Jensen

With less than a month until the June election for Santa Clara County Sheriff, the campaign between four-term incumbent Sheriff Laurie Smith and her opponent, retired Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Jensen, has reached a boiling point.
In a letter signed by 13 retired law enforcement officials from within Santa Clara County in April, the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association both endorsed Jensen and called into question Smith’s handling of the Sierra LaMar kidnapping investigation, among other alleged mishaps.
“We believe that Sheriff Smith has mismanaged a number of high profile cases,” the DSA letter reads. “Her actions, or lack thereof, not only hampered investigations, but also probably have had a negative effect on the outcomes. Members of her department are desperately seeking new leadership and a fresh vision for the future.”
“My opponents are putting out that we did a terrible job,” Smith said in a phone interview with the Gilroy Dispatch, responding to the accusations. “We did an unbelievable job and I know the deputies are really proud of the work they’ve done.”
Smith has served as county sheriff since 1998 and previously had the undying endorsement of the DSA-until now.
“There is a disgruntled group at the top of the DSA and they have been demoted and disciplined,” Smith said.
Jensen, a 28-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office who retired in October for family reasons, has the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, the Gilroy and Morgan Hill Police Officers’ Associations and many other local and statewide law enforcement groups behind him.
On the other hand, Smith has a lengthy list of state and local legislators in her corner, from Congress Members Mike Honda and Zoe Lofgren, Assemblyman Luis Alejo and a majority of both the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the Gilroy City Council.
“I’m proud of my endorsements,” Smith said. “They know me and they trust my work.”
But to Jensen, the support of many of the men and women in the line of duty means they do not support the current leader of the Sheriff’s Office, he said.
“I’ve come up through the ranks, and I know what the deputies do through the ranks,” Jensen said during a phone interview. “I bit my tongue and I tried to work within the system as long as I could because I thought the sheriff would change. But it’s more about politics and power than policing.”
Though Smith said she promoted Jensen each step of the way as he climbed the ranks within the Sheriff’s Office, both are pulling no punches at this stage in the campaign. Both Jensen and Smith are accusing each other of being beholden to interest groups, whether they’re legislators or law enforcement unions.
On one side, Jensen says Smith, now seeking her fifth term, is likely beholden to certain politicians.
“If you’ve been there too long, you owe somebody,” Jensen said.
On the other side, Smith alleges the law enforcement unions are running her opponent’s campaign, pointing to more than $200,000 the DSA has spent supporting Jensen. In years past, she said, the DSA put up as much as $500 into her campaign coffers.
“They’re running (Jensen’s) campaign,” Smith said. “I have a feeling there is going to be some expectation there by the unions. They picked a candidate they knew was very weak and wouldn’t stand up to them. I hold people accountable.”
Jensen says the fact unions are supporting him in the race doesn’t imply he made closed-door promises to the law enforcement groups.
“This isn’t about unions,” Jensen countered. “It’s about men and women who haven’t been treated well and they see how we’ve mistreated the public in the same way. I’ve made no promises to anybody except to be fair.”
Supporters of the retired Sheriff’s Office captain aren’t pulling any punches either.
Marc Klaas, the father of Polly Klaas—a 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped at knifepoint from her family’s Petaluma home in 1993 and murdered by Richard Allen Davis—helped organize search efforts for LaMar. Now, he’s speaking out against Smith for not sharing information with volunteers to aid their search efforts.
“Throughout the process of searching for Sierra, we reached out to Sheriff Smith on many occasions requesting passive information that would not impact the case but might assist our efforts to better focus on viable search areas,” Klaas said. “Unfortunately … Sheriff Smith has ignored all of our requests.”
Klaas goes even further, noting that he’s been organizing civilian search efforts since his daughter’s body was discovered and has never been stonewalled like he has been during the search for LaMar.
“Sierra remains missing and Santa Clara County needs a new sheriff,” Klaas said.
“(Klaas) doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Smith counters, adding that the Sheriff’s Office is still following up on new leads and searching for LaMar when tips are received. “We’re not going to let it go until she’s found.”