After a year in which the county’s board of supervisors mounted pressure to oust her, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith announced Thursday that she plans to retire in January and not run for re-election.
Smith, who has served as the county’s sheriff since 1998, said in her announcement, “As a public official, sometimes you make powerful enemies.”
Smith’s sheriff’s office is currently under a civil rights investigation by the California Attorney General’s office, and a civil grand jury in December leveled charges of corruption against Smith, and misconduct in the handling of a 2018 incident in which a mentally ill inmate died while in the custody of deputies. That and other cases of inmate deaths led the board of supervisors last August to take a vote of no confidence in Smith. Smith stands accused of granting concealed gun permits to campaign donors, and accepting the gift of a suite at a San Jose Sharks game in 2019. She continues to deny the charges about the gun permits, according to court documents.
Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen, whose office has been investigating the corruption charges for several years, gave a statement to ABC 7 saying, “We will soon have a new sheriff. This county deserves a sheriff who has the highest integrity and the trust of the community to protect and serve fairly and professionally.”
And County Supervisor Joe Simitian gave a statement saying, “This is an opportunity for new beginnings; I hope we all take it. These are challenging times for law enforcement. We’ve got to keep the public safe, and reform the system at the same time.”
Up until this week, Sheriff Smith had continued resisting calls for her to step down or retire, suggesting that she would run for re-election this November. She and her attorneys have repeatedly blamed the county’s lack of adequate mental-health care for the problems of violence and deaths in county jails.
But Smith has apparently seen the writing on the wall, and probably does not want to lose an election after serving for 24 years. As the Mercury News reports, Smith never convened a re-election committee.
“I think that it’s the best decision that Laurie Smith could have made,” says San Jose State Justice Studies professor Greg Woods in a statement to ABC 7. “It allows us to restore trust with the institution, where we understand that no leader is larger than the agency that they lead.”
“This job will never be finished and it is with some regret that I announce my retirement from service at the end of my term in January of 2023,” Smith wrote Thursday. “My decision not to run for reelection was very difficult. There is much still to do, but the interests of the people of our County must continue to be our first priority.”
Smith also said it “would be unfair to the voters of Santa Clara County to force them to make a decision in the middle of a drama not of their making.”
As the Mercury News explains, a “seamless transition,” as Smith announced she would like to have, could be thwarted depending on the outcome of the corruption charges, three of which she has not formally denied. That suggests that Smith may not end up serving out her full term, but we’ll see.
Top image: Sheriff Laurie Smith addresses the media during a press conference near the site of a mass shooting at a Valley Transportation Authority light-rail yard on May 26, 2021 in San Jose, California. Photo by Philip Pacheco/Getty Images