Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, who has held that position for 24-years, says she will not run for re-election and that she will be retiring when her term ends in January. In 1998, the now 69-year old became the first woman to be elected as a sheriff in California. Her tenure with the county sheriff’s office dates back to 1973 when she became a sheriff’s matron. At that time, women were not allowed to be deputies.
In a public statement announcing the move, Sheriff Smith appeared to reference some major scandals that have forced her into a defensive stance for the last few years. She’s been accused of trading concealed-carry weapons permits to political donors in exchange for cash for her past re-election campaigns. She has also defended repeated calls for her to step down because of her department’s mismanagement and corruption inside the Santa Clara County Jail, which was reported last year by Hoodline. That includes allegations of questionable body camera mandates, and the deaths and severe beatings of inmates.
“I have always served the people of Santa Clara County and have never engaged in any behavior that would warrant the media animus, false legal narrative, or political attacks currently in the public domain,” Smith said in a public statement. “I will not miss the politics of this job, I will miss the people with whom I have had the pleasure to work with over the years,” she added in an email to sheriff department staff that was obtained by the Mercury News.
The allegations against Smith led to seven formal corruption complaints from the county’s civil grand jury. Investigations into the alleged corruption were led by District Attorney Jeff Rosen who said in a statement after Smith’s announcement, “this county deserves a sheriff who has the highest integrity and the trust of the community to protect and serve fairly and professionally.” Smith will be back in civil court to face those allegations next month which could lead to her outright removal from her position if she is found guilty.
Smith’s retirement opens up the door for new leadership and a possible fresh start for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. "It's a sign of relief. It's people showing that we can start a new chapter, that whatever the perception was out there and whatever the reality was out there, that now we're going to have new leadership that can be respected and trusted," Sheriff's candidate and retired Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Captain Kevin Jensen told ABC7 News.
As the Mercury News reports, “because Smith was eligible for re-election and did not file, prospective candidates have an extended deadline of March 16 to file nomination papers.” The election to replace Smith will happen in June and the winning candidate will take over as Santa Clara County Sheriff in January.