Santa Clara County Sheriff Fires Back at Critics Who Implied Jail Brawl Was Staged

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith has thrown down the gauntlet with the head of the Blue Ribbon Commission, LaDoris Cordell.

Smith sent an angry e-mail message to Cordell saying the head of the commission is trying to provide the media with a story accusing the sheriff of organizing or planning Thursday's fight at the Santa Clara County Main Jail.

The fight involved about 20-inmates took place in a unit where the sheriff had cameras installed the day before.

Cordell said to NBC Bay Area last night "if in fact the correctional officers knew that on the pod, in that unit, there were groups, be they be along racial lines or whatever that did not get along. I was told repeatedly that they would never have them all out at the same time. It wouldn't make sense because what would happen, there could be a big fight in which case people could get hurt."

In her e-mail and in an interview with NBC Bay Area, Smith said Cordell implied the fight was staged in the NBC Bay Area interview and was more explicit in pitching that type of story to other media outlets.

In the e-mail, Smith wrote 'you are very well aware that you have accused me and peace officers of committing criminal acts. Since you lack the courage to ask me directly about your reckless accusation, let me state unequivocally, that it's a lie.'

Smith also told us she's upset that correctional deputies who had to deal with the jail fight are being treated, as she put it, disrespectfully.

She says she's not sure how this will impact their working relationship and jail reform.

Cordell sent Smith a response expressing surprise and disappointment.

The jail commission chair told the sheriff she was "amazed at your level of defensiveness about the incident and your attribution to me that I have accused you and your correctional officers of engaging in criminal conduct. I have done no such thing."

Cordell denied soliciting media coverage to talk about the "jail incident" and ended with "me thinks you doth protest too much."

The Sheriff's Office responded to Cordell's letter and said, in its view, Cordell never actually denies the central issue of publicly implying the inmate brawl may have been set up for the cameras.

The two are expected to see each other again at the next Blue Ribbon Commission hearing on Saturday in San Jose.

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