Sheriff Faces "No Confidence" Vote Over Carry Permit Scandal

Paul Sakuma

To be precise, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith is facing a “no confidence” vote from county supervisors because of a number of areas of concern, including the criminal charges that several of her top lieutenants are facing over allegations of bribery and corruption in the issuance of concealed carry permits.


In fact, the resolution declaring no confidence in the sheriff stretches to seven pages, and between all the “whereas” and “therefores” there’s a laundry list of allegations that paint a picture of a troubled agency and an inept leader.

WHEREAS, for more than two years, the Santa Clara County District Attorney has pursued investigations and prosecutions of alleged corruption in the Sheriff’s Office relating to the issuance of carry concealed weapons (CCW) licenses;

WHEREAS, in June 2020, an NBC Bay Area analysis found that donors to Sheriff Smith’s election campaigns were 14 times more likely to be granted a CCW license than nondonor applicants;

WHEREAS, in August 2020, then-Captain James Jensen, formerly a high-ranking member of the Sheriff’s Office, was indicted by a criminal grand jury on felony bribery and conspiracy charges related to an alleged conspiracy to offer a $90,000 donation supporting Sheriff Smith’s reelection in exchange for CCW licenses;

WHEREAS, the former CEO and two former managers of an international security firm have pleaded guilty to charges related to this alleged bribery conspiracy to obtain CCW licenses in exchange for a $90,000 donation supporting Sheriff Smith’s reelection;

WHEREAS, in November 2020, then-Undersheriff Rick Sung, formerly Sheriff Smith’s second-in-command, was indicted by a criminal grand jury on felony bribery charges related to allegations that he withheld CCW licenses in order to exact luxury suite tickets to a February 14, 2019 San Jose Sharks hockey game and a promise of 200 iPads worth nearly $70,000;

WHEREAS, during an August 3, 2020 appearance before the criminal grand jury in relation to the CCW investigation, Sheriff Smith invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions;

WHEREAS, on November 16, 2020, a Sheriff’s Office employee testified before the criminal grand jury that Sheriff Smith asked her to purchase inexpensive tickets to the February 14, 2019 San Jose Sharks hockey game in order to avoid reporting the luxury suite tickets as a gift under California Fair Political Practices Commission rules. According to news reports, the inexpensive tickets were not used, and Sheriff Smith’s reelection was celebrated in the luxury suite;

WHEREAS, on January 19, 2021, the Fair Political Practices Commission notified Sheriff Smith and her attorney that its Enforcement Division had commenced an investigation regarding Sheriff Smith’s potential violations of conflict-of-interest and gift disclosure/limits provisions of the Political Reform Act


And those are just the allegations surrounding the carry permit scandal. Other examples of alleged wrongdoing brought up by the supervisors include “significant incidents of malfeasance and/or negligence in the Santa Clara County jails,” like the fatal beating of an inmate by three corrections officers in the Santa Clara County Jail and a “bail capping” ring in the jail that “controlled access to phones, used threats, and/or promised cheap bail to pressure new inmates to sign contracts with certain bail agents” with the knowledge and potential facilitation by jail staff.

None of these allegations are new, and Sheriff Smith has so far refused to resign her position despite invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the carry permit scandal. Supervisors are hoping that a “no confidence” vote will put pressure on Smith to step down, and the editorial board of the San Jose Mercury-News has weighed in with a call to make the no confidence vote unanimous, opining that Smith has demonstrated “unbecoming conduct” and needs to step down.

Last week, Smith held a press conference in which she addressed some of the issues raised by supervisors, though it sounds like she didn’t talk too much (if at all) about the allegations that her top deputies were approving concealed carry permits in exchange for donations to an “independent” group supporting Smith’s re-election campaign. Santa Clara is one of the more restrictive counties in the state when it comes to approving carry permits, with residents forced to demonstrate some special need or circumstance rather than pointing to their Second Amendment rights. Several individuals have testified that they were able to grease the wheels by forking over $90,000 to that re-election committee, and while Smith herself has not been charged in the case, Santa Clara County D.A. Jeff Rosen hasn’t ruled out the possibility.


Will Smith resign if the no confidence vote passes? I’m not holding my breath. But the sheriff’s term in office expires next year, and my guess is if she doesn’t resign between now and then, she’s going to get voted out of office next November. By then, her replacement may not have the opportunity to use their discretion regarding carry permits to facilitate campaign bribes, because the Supreme Court may very well have struck down “may issue” laws like California’s in their entirety.


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