ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: Bay Area's first female sheriff faces complaints of past sexual harassment

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Monday, June 4, 2018
EXCLUSIVE: California's first female sheriff faces sex harassment complaints
She broke barriers as the first female sheriff in the state, and now Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith faces accusations of past sexual harassment.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- She broke barriers as the first female sheriff in the state, and now Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith faces accusations of past sexual harassment.

Three of her former officers tell the I-Team, they have their own "Me Too" stories.

Dan Noyes: "It's been 20 years, should she be held accountable today?"

Retired Santa Clara County Sheriff's Sergeant Gary Brady: "Absolutely, absolutely."

Dan Noyes: "Why?"

Retired Sheriff's Sergeant Gary Brady: "Because it was wrong."

Dan Noyes: "These accusations of sexual harassment are false?"

Sheriff Laurie Smith: "Absolutely, absolutely."

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She broke barriers as the first female sheriff in the state, and now Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith faces accusations of past sexual harassment. Three of her former officers tell the I-Team tonight, they have their own "Me Too" stories.

Laurie Smith has had a long career at the Sheriff's Department -- 45 years. And tonight, three men are coming forward to claim that, as she climbed the ladder, she abused her position of power.

This retirement letter delivered to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department in April begins "Dear Sheriff Smith". It was sent by a 30-year correctional officer who asked not to be identified to avoid possible repercussions for his children. He wrote, "You will recall how, on multiple occasions, you sexually harassed me."

Dan Noyes spoke with his attorney, Josh Boxer, from his Manhattan Beach office.

"He had experienced sexual harassment from Sheriff Smith and remained silent or largely silent, I should say, over the years fearing retaliation," Boxer said.

The retirement letter is now part of an investigation at the county's Equal Opportunity Department, and officials tell us the officer has been interviewed by an EOD investigator.

The officer says Smith was his supervisor at Main Jail when she first propositioned him, and that she touched herself in a way that made him uncomfortable. Another time, he says she suggestively handled a police baton, and that she propositioned him a third time in a trailer while they worked the 1994 World Cup at Stanford Stadium.

Through a spokesman, Sheriff Smith released a statement saying, "These false narratives are nothing more than an orchestrated attack on the integrity of the Sheriff's Office and my personal reputation," and she declined to be interviewed. So, Dan Noyes found her Wednesday evening outside a campaign event that she wound up not attending.

Dan Noyes: "Would you talk to me, please?"

Sheriff Laurie Smith: "You know, I've got to run back to the office, but I'd be happy to."

The I-Team asked about the officer's complaints.

Dan Noyes: "He says on three different occasions you propositioned him."

Sheriff Laurie Smith: "Not true. Can you excuse me for a moment and I know that you want to-- I'll be happy to talk to you unless this suffices?"

Dan Noyes: "No."

The officer has filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office and a current jail supervisor, claiming Age and Disability Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation. In court papers, the county denies "each and every allegation".

Boxer tells us the officer's sexual harassment claims against the sheriff are also part of the case, and he's trying -- over the county's objections -- to depose Laurie Smith in the next 30 to 60 days.

"Our case continues to grow," Boxer told the I-Team. "And it's certainly bolstered by the other individuals who have come forward as well with similar stories of harassment."

Gary Brady is one of those individuals. He told Dan Noyes, "She undressed and she got on top of me and she wanted me to do some things that I'm embarrassed to talk about now."

November 1991. Brady was an undercover narcotics officer when he attended a convention in Burlingame with Laurie Smith and other department personnel. The I-Team obtained a photo of Smith at a party during the convention -- she was 40 years old, Assistant Sheriff, the second-in-command of the department.

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Brady tells us, after a night of drinking that weekend, they had an encounter in an unmarked county vehicle similar to this, parked at the Hyatt Regency, even though they both were married. Brady says he cut it short.

Dan Noyes: "Did you tell her I don't want to do this, did you tell her I'm uncomfortable? What did you tell her?"

Gary Brady: "Actually, I said, you know, it's time to go. It's time to go."

Dan Noyes: "The event with Gary Brady in that county vehicle didn't happen?"

Sheriff Laurie Smith: "No, it did not."

Dan Noyes: "At the convention in Burlingame?"

Sheriff Laurie Smith: "It did not."

After, Brady says Smith retaliated, taking him off a prestigious assignment with the Allied Agencies Narcotics Enforcement Team, and that he confronted her about the move.

"I always remember her vein on the left side just standing up," Brady says. "And she told me, 'It's about time the females in this department get the good jobs.'"

Brady filed a gender discrimination grievance with the county's Equal Opportunity Department or EOD, but it was denied, saying "...the (Sheriff's) Department acted fairly and responsibly."

Then, he filed a sexual harassment complaint against Sheriff Smith, but in 1996, the county denied that saying, "Witness testimony and documentation did not substantiate any of these allegations."

Brady says EOD staff did not take his complaints about the sheriff seriously: "She said, 'We didn't really talk to all your witnesses, we talked to a few of them, but maybe Laurie Smith liked you.'"

For the past several weeks, the I-Team has contacted several current and former Sheriff's Department personnel who say they remember hearing the two officers' accounts from them, around the time the incidents allegedly occurred.

"Gary confided in us what had happened," former correctional officer Ed Albanoski tells the I-Team. "And he was visibly shaken by it."

Albanoski has his own story saying that he was a deputy sheriff on lunch break at Elmwood Women's Jail in the late '80's when Smith came onto him. "And she had her uniform shirt unbuttoned down to like the third button, not wearing a T-shirt, not wearing a bra, and kind of exposing herself to me," he said.

Albanoski says, twice that day, he turned down Smith's invitation to go out for drinks. Fast forward several years, Albanoski got injured on the job -- hit while stopped in his patrol car. After two years out on disability and money running low, he says he met with then-Assistant Sheriff Laurie Smith.

Ed Albanoski: "I was basically pleading with her to get my job back. She goes, 'Well, you should have been nicer to me at Elmwood."

Dan Noyes: "She actually said that?"

Ed Albanoski: "She actually said that. My response was, 'You've got to be kidding me.'"

Sheriff Smith also denies that account, and promised to provide documents from all three officers' personnel files that would call into question their credibility.

Sheriff Laurie Smith: "If you get a waiver from them for their personnel records that would probably tell you a lot."

Dan Noyes: "So, the personnel records, but I'm asking about your actions, are you denying--"

Sheriff Laurie Smith: "Yes, it's all false, absolutely false."

The officers agreed to sign waivers, but the sheriff and her staff have not provided anything from the personnel files that would call into question the officers' credibility. Albanoski and Brady tell us they have no plans to sue and are not after money, but they wanted their stories heard before this week's election.

Click here for more stories, photos, and video from recent I-Team investigations.