I-TEAM: Jail commander says she lost job over BBQ grill, sexual harassment complaint

MILPITAS, Calif. (KGO) -- The Commander of Santa Clara County's Elmwood Jail, Amy Le, is telling her side of the story after being walked off the job, supposedly over a barbecue grill.

Le says there is much more to the story. She has given her first television interview to the I-Team's Dan Noyes.

Le, a former sheriff's captain, tells us the barbecue grill was just part of the story; that the day before she lost her job, she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a high-ranking sheriff's official on behalf of another female employee.

I-TEAM: Santa Clara Co. Sheriff's Captain Amy Le removed from job over barbecue grill

Le was a 30-year Sheriff's Department employee, the first female president of the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association when she threw her support behind Sheriff Laurie Smith in last year's election.

Le even appeared at campaign events as Smith's surrogate.

"During the campaign, I did a lot of support for her. I spent a lot of hours after work, going to meetings, go into the community," Le said.

After she won re-election, Sheriff Smith promoted Le to Captain and put her in charge of the Elmwood Jail Complex in Milpitas. But Le's opinion of Sheriff Smith has soured.

"She's very mean, she's vindictive," Le said. "It's either her way or no way."

As one of her first projects at Elmwood, Le told the I-Team she wanted to build a break area for jail staff.

"My vision was to create a garden, so that way my staff can take a break to de-stress, so that way they can come back to, you know, the work with the inmates," Le said.

When higher-ups told her there was no budget, she and her husband-- also a correctional deputy-- donated $6,000 to get the project started. The union and some deputies also chipped in.

"I think the overall project cost was about fifteen grand or so," Le said.

Male and female inmates, led by sheriff's deputies, took weeks to finish the project, including a custom grill with stylized law enforcement flags and "Office of the Sheriff" carved into the handles.

Le provided a video in which she gave her deputies plaques to recognize their efforts, and debriefed the inmates. They talked about learning life skills through the project.

Inmate 1: "It's more opportunity for us."

Inmate 2: "It motivates us."

Inmate 1: "Motivates us. At the end of the day, we want to be able to pull this off."

But just days after the project wrapped up, sheriff's officials walked Amy Le off the job at Elmwood, and took her badge, gun and department vehicle. She tells me she was blindsided and heartbroken.

Amy Le:"It was really hard."

Dan Noyes: "Why?"

Amy Le: "It's just because it's humiliating and it's the way-- how I was treated it ."

This letter from the Office of the Sheriff, putting her on paid administrative leave, alleges that she "knowingly made false statements to a superior officer when questioned about soliciting donations" for that barbecue and break area.

Dan Noyes: "Is that true?"

Amy Le: "That's not true, that is a ridiculous false allegation because I was very clear with them who gave me the money."

Le even posted a plaque in the garden, naming those who donated and thanking them.

Le says this is the real reason she was disciplined-- the day before she lost her job, Le reported a sexual harassment complaint on behalf of a woman who worked for her, against a high-ranking jail official.

"She felt, you know, harassed, sexually harassed, and she would like it to stop," Le said.

Dan Noyes asked Sheriff Laurie Smith for an interview about all this through her media office. They never answered our request to speak with the sheriff on camera, but they did send an email.

Public Information Officer Jessica Gabaldon describes Amy Le's account of her removal as "inaccurate gossip," and calls the sexual harassment complaint against the sheriff's official "a nonsensical, factually deficient story."

But Amy Le provided a voicemail that she says supports her account of what happened.

A man identifying himself as Assistant Sheriff Michael Doty called Le on May 30th.

"Hi, good morning, Amy, it's A.S. Doty just getting back to you regarding the complaint that you called me about yesterday...So, talked to the undersheriff and county counsel, have some info, so when you get a chance, give me a callback and I look forward to talking to you."

Le also provided screenshots of texts she says are from Doty: "Hi Amy, just finished meeting with (the alleged victim). Sorry I kept her from you for so long. I'll talk to the Undersheriff."

The undersheriff is Rick Sung, Sheriff Smith's right-hand man. Le lost her job the very next day.

Dan Noyes: "Were they coming after you because you spoke up too much, is that what you're saying?"

Amy Le: "Because I advocate for both, for the male, you know, the male and female inmates in the facility and also for the staff. I wanted real change."

Amy Le said that she resigned because it was clear the chips were stacked against her, and she's now considering running for a supervisor or applying to be an independent watchdog overseeing the jails.

We've spoken with several deputies and supervisors at Elmwood Jail. They say what happened to Amy Le has really been a blow to morale.

Take a look at for a look at more stories and videos by Dan Noyes and the ABC7 News I-Team.

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