Attorney General launches civil rights investigation into sheriff’s office

Laurie Smith takes heat for jail operations, ‘pay-to-play’ gun permit allegations

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Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.

State Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday announced his office is opening a civil rights investigation into the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office over allegations that include misconduct in county jails and resistance to oversight.

The Sheriff’s Office has faced much criticism under six-term Sheriff Laurie Smith. In August, the county Board of Supervisors gave a unanimous vote of no confidence for Smith that alleged jail mismanagement, a “pay-to-play” scheme involving gun permits issued by her office, and the death or serious injury of inmates, resulting in settlements that have cost the county millions.

Smith said Wednesday in response to the attorney general’s announcement, “I have always welcomed any external review of the Sheriff’s Office and we will immediately open all records. I have great confidence in the Attorney General’s Office and I believe they will provide the expertise for a fair and impartial investigation. We remain focused on our mission, which is to continue to provide the highest level of public safety services.”

Bonta said in a statement that there is a clear “lack of trust” in the community toward the Sheriff’s Office regarding “deeply concerning allegations” that “have been repeatedly voiced by elected leaders, editorial boards, community members, and more.”

He said his investigators will look into whether there is a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional conduct. The attorney general’s office is authorized to investigate whether a law enforcement agency has a pattern or practice of violating federal or state law and can compel the correction of systemic violations.

“We will be thorough and impartial in our efforts to ensure that the civil rights of the people of Santa Clara County are respected,” he said.

Anyone with information relevant to the attorney general’s investigation is asked to email [email protected]

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