A special civil jury in Northern California found a former longtime sheriff guilty on all six counts of corruption and willful misconduct in a case involving the issuing of concealed-carry weapons permits in exchange for campaign donations.
Laurie Smith resigned from her post as sheriff of the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office on Monday when the jury was already deliberating. Her attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case but the judge denied it.
Smith had been sheriff of Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, since 1998 when she became the first woman elected sheriff in California.
After the verdict was read, Smith wiped away tears, the Mercury News reported. Neither Smith nor her attorney Allen Ruby offered any comment outside the courtroom in San Jose. San Francisco assistant district attorney Gabriel Markoff, who prosecuted the case, also declined to comment, the newspaper reported.
A guilty verdict on just one count would have led to Smith’s removal from office but since she stepped down it is unclear what legal impact the guilty verdict could have. Smith will return to court on Nov. 16, when San Mateo County superior court judge is likely to issue the formal removal order for Smith, the newspaper reported.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen praised Thursday’s verdict.
“We’re gratified that the jury considered the evidence from our comprehensive and detailed investigation and found all the allegations against the sheriff to be true,” he told the newspaper. “I want to emphasize this is a very sad day when a law-enforcement leader has been found to have committed terrible misconduct.”
Rosen said it’s still possible that Smith could face criminal charges.
The civil case against Smith started last year when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a vote of no-confidence in Smith and requested outside investigations by the attorney general as well as the county civil grand jury.
In December, the civil grand jury filed a Superior Court complaint that accused Smith of six counts of “willful and corrupt misconduct.” The jury found her guilty on all counts.
The first count accused her of “implementing policy or practice” of granting licenses to carry concealed firearms on the basis of whether an applicant was a campaign donor, a member of a sheriff’s advisory board nonprofit organization, a prominent individual in the community or was associated with prominent individuals, corporations or “otherwise had a personal connection” to the sheriff.
The grand jury alleged that Smith failed to make individual good-cause determinations of the basis for concealed-carry permit applications by people who were not VIPs, keeping them pending indefinitely.
At the time of the Board of Supervisors’ no-confidence vote, they expressed concern about a pattern of conduct in the jails.
In another count, the grand jury alleged Smith committed “willful misconduct” by failing to provide information to the county Office of Correction and Law Enforcement. That office was seeking information involving an internal affairs probe of a 2018 incident in which a mentally ill man inflicted serious injuries on himself while inside a jail transport van, leading to a $10 million settlement with his family.
In 2015, a county inmate was beaten to death by three jail guards, and another inmate died after guards shot him with a riot gun at close range. Both inmates had a mental illness.