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Santa Clara County Sheriff Accused of Coverup After $10 Million Payout to Mentally Ill Detainee Who Severely Injured Himself During Jail Transport

by Benjamin Tschirhart

An October 2022 report by the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement (OCLE) in California’s Santa Clara County faults the county Sheriff’s Department (SCSD) for prematurely closing an investigation into the death of a mentally ill detainee during a transfer between county jails in August 2018. After Andrew Hogan suffered injuries that left him in a coma, his family sued for negligence and received a $10 million settlement in 2020. The OCLE report then deduced that SCSD and Sheriff Laurie Smith had sought to distance themselves from any liability for the 24-year-old’s injuries.

When his parents called SCSD, Hogan was experiencing a mental health crisis. Having developed a major mental illness after high school, he was known to local police from previous encounters. They were aware of his condition. Yet after he was booked into the county jail, his obvious need for mental health treatment and care went ignored, the suit alleged.

Filed by attorney Paula Canny, the claim stated that Hogan’s mental health deteriorated in jail. He became suicidal and began self-harming, banging his head against his cell wall. Because of this, jailers decided to transfer him from the Elmwood lockup to the county’s main jail in San Jose.

However, deputies put him in a transport van instead of an ambulance, despite his obvious medical emergency. They took no special care with his restraints, placing him in waist and leg chains. While in the transport van, Hogan began banging his head against the side of the van. When the transport deputies radioed their superiors for advice, they were instructed to do nothing but continue driving. As they looked on, making no attempt to restrain or protect him, Hogan cried out for help as he beat his head – so badly that he slipped into a coma, which ultimately lasted about a month.

Once at the main jail, 30-40 minutes passed before any help was summoned for Hogan. Though making no move to protect him, jailers did manage to take some photos and videos, which they shared with friends as they mocked the man they were charged with protecting.

When he finally woke, Hogan was severely disabled, unable to feed or clothe himself. His parents, Wendy and Chris Hogan, must now help him and care for him constantly. He has extreme damage to both his long- and short-term memory.

Four months later, the family filed its claim against the county for negligence and deliberate indifference, as well as assault and violation of Hogan’s civil rights. They requested damages for medical expenses, legal fees and the pain and suffering inflicted on the family.

On March 5, 2020, the County agreed to a $10 million settlement, with $5 million paid directly to the Hogans, and the remainder paid periodically as a structured settlement. The agreement also included fees for attorney Canny, along with a covenant not to sue. See: Government Tort Claim No. HL 039639-2, County of Santa Clara (2020).

OCLE’s report arrived just over 30 months later. In it, Project Manager Michael Gennaco noted with alarm that SCSD’s investigation launched in September 2018 was closed less than two months later – not long after Sheriff Laurie Smith was re-elected. Nine days after votes were totaled, Lt. Amy Le, who was watch commander during Hogan’s transport, was promoted to captain, and then-Undersheriff Rick Sung ordered SCSD to close its internal affairs inquiry.

“Certainly, the natural inference that can be drawn here is that the support that Lt. and then Capt. Le provided to the sheriff in her reelection campaign, the fact that she had been promoted to a higher position and command staff, was likely a factor in the decision to close down the investigation,” Gennaco reported.

Neither Smith nor Sung cooperated with OCLE in its investigation, and Gennaco said that SCSD failed to maintain and provide a document trail in the internal affairs investigation. Sung has been on paid leave for over two years, collecting more than $1 million in salary and benefits since he was indicted in a “pay to play” scandal that allegedly awarded precious concealed-carry gun permits to Smith’s campaign supporters.

Le retired just after she was walked off the job in 2019 for allegedly using prisoners and detainees to build an unpermitted arbor and barbeque grill at the Elmwood jail. [See: PLN, Oct. 2019, p.32.] She sued the county and reportedly reached an undisclosed settlement in 2021.

Meanwhile Smith, 70, declined to run for re-election when her term ended at the close of 2022. Why? On November 3, 2022, she was found guilty on six counts of corruption and misconduct in a civil trial for the “pay to play” scheme. A judge was set to determine her sentence, but that was likely removal from office, something Smith already did for herself on October 31, 2022, just before the verdict.

After winning election to replace Smith the following month, former Palo Alto Police Chief Bob Jonsen was appointed by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to assume office a month early on December 8, 2022.

Hogan’s injury was one of several at the county jails – some resulting in death – that sparked a no-confidence vote against Smith by BOCC in August 2021. In addition to the $10 million payout for the Hogans, the County paid $7 million in February 2022 to another detainee injured at the jail, Juan Martin Nunez. [See: PLN, Oct. 2022, p.60.] Another $1 million was paid in April 2018 to the estate of Valdimir Matyssik, after the elderly Alzheimer’s patient was released from the jail and wandered onto an Interstate highway, where he was struck by a car and killed. [See: PLN, Feb. 19, 2022, online.]  

Additional sources: KGO, Mercury News, NBC News, Palo Alto Online, Palo Alto Post, San Jose Spotlight 

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