It's an ignominious end for Sheriff Laurie Smith, who served as Santa Clara County's top cop for the last 24 years before abruptly resigning Monday. A civil grand jury has found her guilty on all six counts she was charged with, including corruption and willful misconduct.
While Smith can't technically be removed from office by the jury's verdicts today, after she preempted this outcome by retiring two months early on Monday, the convictions are certainly a blow to Smith's image and reputation as she leaves office. Because this was a civil proceeding, the only negative outcome of a conviction was to be the loss of her position.
As the Mercury News reports, the jury returned Thursday with six guilty verdicts after beginning deliberations on October 28. Since late September, the jury has heard evidence and testimony from 40 witnesses about instances in which Smith directed her deputies and aides to issue gun permits in exchange for donations to the department. In one instance, it was 200 iPads donated by Apple in exchange for concealed-carry permits for the security team who protects CEO Tim Cook.
In another instance, Smith and some friends and supporters were gifted a luxury suite at a San Jose Sharks hockey game, and an aide testified that Smith had purchased three "nosebleed" seats elsewhere in the arena in an attempt to conceal the unreported gift.
Accusations that Smith's office doled out concealed-carry weapons (CCW) permits to friends and donors date back to 2011 at least. And critics have long contended that Smith didn't always play by the rules when it came to such schemes, and investigations into her department.
But the swirling of these latest accusations that culminated in the civil grand jury proceeding began in earnest in the summer of 2021, when the county board of supervisors took a vote of no confidence in Smith. Subsequently, criminal bribery indictments came down for two of Smith's high-ranking associates, former undersheriff Rick Sung and Capt. James Jensen relating to these CCW permits and illegal kickbacks. (Confusingly, retired sheriff’s captain Kevin Jensen [no relation?] is running to replace Smith in next week's election.) Sung quietly retired last month, and both men have yet to stand trial.
Also on Thursday, the grand jury convicted Smith of one count of willful misconduct in the handling of a county law-enforcement monitor’s probe into the case Andrew Hogan, the former inmate whose brain damage — which occurred while in sheriff's department custody — led to a $10 million damages settlement for the county. Hogan was left unrestrained in a van in 2018 while being transported to a psychiatric facility, and Smith was accused of not cooperating fully with the investigation into the conduct of deputies responsible for Hogan that day.
Anticipating at least one — but maybe not six — guilty verdicts, Smith and her attorney Allen Ruby opted to tender her resignation and announce her earlier-than-planned retirement on Monday, effective immediately. Smith had intended to stay in her role until January, when a newly elected sheriff took office, after announcing in March that she was not intending to seek re-election for another term. Prosecutors had offered to drop the charges against Smith back in July if she agreed to resign then, but instead she pressed forward with this trial.
Neither Smith nor her attorney offered any comment Thursday following the verdicts being read.
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