The death of Michael Tyree in August 2015 in the Santa Clara County Main Jail prompted the Board of Supervisors to appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission. The all volunteer panel consisted of judges, community activists, mental health advocates, a former inmate and other community members. The mandate was to investigate conditions in the jail that led to the death of Mr. Tyree, which possibly occured at the hands of three corrections deputies who are facing homicide charges.
After the death of Mr. Tyree, another inmate, Walter Roches, also died in custody. The cause of his death was inconclusive by the County Medical Examiner but it should be noted that Sheriff Laurie Smith is the Coroner and oversees the County Medical Examiner. Prior to the death of Mr. Roches, he was shot numerous times with less-than-lethal bean bag rounds. Those rounds impacted his upper body and were fired from close range, both in violation of the gun manufacture’s recommendations. The Sheriff refused to release the video of the use of the cell extraction and the use of that weapon.
On November 5, 2015 Vladimir Matyssik was released from custody when misdemeanor trespassing charges were dropped. Mr. Matyssik had been housed in the jail mental health unit as he suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. A family friend notified jail officers that he would wait for his release. Hours later he learned that Mr. Matyssik was allowed to just walk out of the jail. Ten hours after his release Mr. Matyssik wandered onto I880 in Milpitas where he was struck and killed by a car.
These three wrongful death cases as well as numerous other use-of-force cases and a lawsuit filed by a prisoner’s rights organization will cost the taxpayers of Santa Clara County millions of dollars.
Although neither the Roches nor the Matyssik cases were considered by the Blue Ribbon Commissionthey did find fault in many of the jail operations having to do with the care and well-being of the inmates. A group of lawyers interviewed more than 900 current inmates and 33 correctional deputies. Their findings shocked the Commission. In particular, they reported that many correctional deputies were too afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation by Sheriff Smith.
Among the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission are that Sheriff Laurie Smith be replaced as the head of the jail system. Conditions have deteriorated in the system since she was given charge of it in 2010.
As an elected official she can only be removed from office by a recall election or at the end of her current term in 2018. Control of the jails can be removed by the Board of Supervisors at any time they find it necessary. That power was granted to them by the voters in June 2012.
Supervisor Cindy Chavez , a strong political ally of Sheriff Smith has already indicated that the Board of Supervisors will not be considering that recommendation, preferring to keep the status quo.
This petition demands that the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors follow the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission that they themselves organized and appointed. Sheriff Laurie Smith must be removed from all responsibility for the county jail systems immediately and that the Board appoint a director from outside of the current members of the department.