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State launches civil rights probe into Santa Clara sheriff’s office alleged misconduct

California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday announced his office is opening a civil rights investigation into the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office over allegations that include misconduct in county jails and resistance to oversight.

The Sheriff’s Office has faced much criticism under six-term Sheriff Laurie Smith. In August, the county Board of Supervisors gave a unanimous vote of no confidence for Smith that alleged jail mismanagement, a “pay-to-play” scheme involving gun permits issued by her office, and the death or serious injury of inmates, resulting in settlements that have cost the county millions of dollars.

Smith, whose office did not immediately respond Wednesday to the announcement of the investigation by the attorney general, in response to the Board of Supervisors’ no confidence vote cited systemic issues and a lack of funding in mental health services and the criminal legal system as the main problems facing the county Sheriff’s Office.

Bonta said in a statement that there is a clear “lack of trust” in the community toward the Sheriff’s Office regarding “deeply concerning allegations” that “have been repeatedly voiced by elected leaders, editorial boards, community members, and more.”

He said his investigators will look into whether there is a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional conduct. The attorney general’s office is authorized to investigate whether a law enforcement agency has a pattern or practice of violating federal or state law and can compel the correction of systemic violations.

Bonta said:

We will be thorough and impartial in our efforts to ensure that the civil rights of the people of Santa Clara County are respected.”

Anyone with information relevant to the attorney general’s investigation is asked to email [email protected].

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