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Mercury Editorial: Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith Should Resign

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith

Mercury Newspaper Editorial: Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith Should Resign

Editorial: Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith should resign

Her decision to invoke her Fifth Amendment right in the concealed weapons investigation is unacceptable

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith has lost the trust of county residents. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

PUBLISHED: September 23, 2020 at 6:15 a.m. | UPDATED: September 23, 2020 at 3:36 p.m.

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Laurie Smith should immediately resign as Santa Clara County Sheriff.

Her decision to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when appearing before a grand jury in a pay-to-play concealed weapons investigation involving her own office is unacceptable.

County residents have a right to know if the county’s top cop knew about corruption in her office, or worse, was involved in it. Her refusal to answer those questions under oath makes her unfit to hold her office.

This cannot be tolerated in Santa Clara County or anywhere in the Bay Area or the rest of California. Law enforcement officials must be held to the highest legal and ethical standards and must be fully cooperative in any criminal investigation. Anything less undermines the powerful trust placed in them.

Smith has a constitutional right to refuse to answer questions in criminal proceedings. But she doesn’t have a right to continue holding her powerful position if she does. If Smith refuses to immediately resign, the county civil grand jury should promptly launch an investigation and issue an accusation to remove the sheriff from office.

The sheriff’s stonewalling came during a criminal grand jury investigation of what for years has been strongly suspected in Santa Clara County political circles — that her office gave special treatment to her political supporters, including approval of permits for civilians to carry concealed weapons in public.

Santa Clara County has a history of being especially stingy with its concealed weapons permits, issuing or renewing only 150 permits between 2014 and 2019 out of more than 750 applications. At least 25% of the recipients had contributed to Smith’s campaigns in amounts of $100 to $1,000.

On Aug. 6, the grand jury indicted Sheriff’s Capt. James Jensen; Christopher Schumb, attorney and fundraiser for Smith’s reelection committee; attorney Harpaul Nahal; and Milpitas firearms dealer Michael Nichols.

The next day, District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced felony charges of conspiracy and bribery against all four. They are accused of plotting to illegally secure concealed-gun permits for a Seattle-based executive security firm. Smith has not been charged in the case.

Text messages examined by investigators revealed that in October 2018 the security firm’s project manager, Martin Nielsen, went to Schumb’s downtown San Jose office and handed over a $45,000 check made out to a pro-Smith independent expenditure committee. It was partial payment on a $90,000 deal for 10-12 concealed weapons permits, witnesses testified.

Smith was called to testify in the grand jury investigation. But she repeatedly refused to answer questions from Deputy District Attorney John Chase. “I assert my privilege against self-incrimination,” said Smith. “Therefore I’m declining to answer your questions.” Smith wouldn’t even answer when Chase asked her to “summarize for the jury your career at the Sheriff’s Office” or whether she could answer “general questions about the Sheriff’s Advisory Board and how it works”.

In no circumstances should this be tolerated.  Smith should immediately resign from office. The county’s top law enforcement officer cannot be trusted to carry out her duties.

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