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Regional Interests

Oversight Agency Probes Santa Clara County Sheriff Over an Internal Investigation That was Shut Down

A law enforcement oversight agency plans to subpoena the Santa Clara County sheriff to obtain records from an allegedly abandoned internal investigation in the case of a man with mental illness who was severely injured in 2018 while in jail.

A preliminary report by the county Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring made public Friday evening questioned what it called the “highly irregular and problematic” decision to close the internal investigation into Andrew Hogan’s case before it was completed.

Instead of intervening as 24-year-old Andrew Hogan pleaded for help, Santa Clara County correctional officers and medical staff allegedly stood by and did nothing as he beat his head against the metal cage of a prisoner transport van until he knocked himself unconscious.

Hogan was in a coma for six weeks following the traumatic brain injury he suffered on Aug. 25, 2018, according to a legal claim. He lives today with long-term disabilities affecting his memory, movement and speech, his attorney said.

The new report from the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring says the public has a right to information about the case, which is at the center of county supervisors’ call last month for multiple investigations into longtime Sheriff Laurie Smith.

The Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring is an independent agency formed by Santa Clara County in 2018 to provide oversight over the sheriff. Its report mirrored concerns aired by politicians in August.

Despite repeated requests, “the Sheriff (through her attorney) has expressly declined to provide us any information relating to the Internal Affairs investigation that her agency appears to have initiated and then deactivated,” the report says.

The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.

That unexplained and abrupt end to the internal probe also factored into the county’s decision to settle a lawsuit brought by Hogan and his parents for $10 million last year, according to a second bombshell document that was also made public Friday.

Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams wrote in a Feb. 10, 2020 memo to the Board that a jury could find that the sheriff essentially signed off on unconstitutional conduct by a jail supervisor at the scene of Hogan’s injuries.

That would open the county up to even greater liability, according to the memo.

Hogan, then 24, was arrested Aug. 10, 2018 on a minor offense in hopes, according to his attorney, that he would be treated in the psychiatric unit of the county’s Main Jail. Hogan has schizoaffective disorder and had been unable to get treatment, his attorney said. He ended up being held in the Elmwood facility until Aug. 25, 2018, when he began to beat his head against the wall of a jail cell.

Corrections officers decided to transfer him, and coaxed him into a steel-caged prisoner transport van.

“There were 10 million things they did wrong,” Hogan’s attorney Paula Canny said. “And Andy suffered 10 million dollars worth of injuries and profoundly impacted his life, his parents life, the life of his brothers, his grandmother, everybody that loved Andy.”

The county plans to soon release video that captured different phases of the incident — some four hours of footage is still being redacted. Both the county counsel’s memo and the OCLEM report cite video that has yet to be made public.

On the approximately 12 minute drive between the two jails, Hogan started to bang his head on a steel beam.

“One of the deputies estimated that Mr. Hogan struck his head at least 50 times,” while en route, the county counsel’s memo says. After the van arrived at the main jail, video captured an unidentified sheriff’s supervisor peeking into the van while a nurse assessed Hogan and suggested he immediately be transported by ambulance to the hospital.

The first unnamed supervisor noticed “there was an extreme amount of blood coming from the top of his head dripping onto his face,” according to the OCLEM report.

But the supervisor then shut the door to the van and called for the jail’s Emergency Response Team to suit up in protective gear to extract Hogan.

The supervisor can be heard on video saying that in the meantime “that Hogan ‘will do all the damage he wants [to himself],’” according to the county counsel’s memo, which says the supervisor “appears harsh and insensitive to Hogan’s needs.”

“It was horrifying,” Canny said about the sergeant’s statement. “There’s two things that are horrifying about that: One, that that was her perception, and two, as she said it, the nurse was standing right next to her and did nothing to correct her. To me it’s a double whammy.”

Several minutes passed while ambulance personnel and jail staff waited for the specialized jail team to arrive.

“Supervisor 1 closed the doors of the van, leaving no one to monitor Mr. Hogan as he continued to bleed and decompensate,” the OCLEM report says. “On the recordings, Mr. Hogan can be heard yelling irrational statements with less and less vigor as he eventually lapses into unconsciousness.”

The county counsel wrote that images of EMTs “standing around and casually chatting with jail staff” while Hogan lost consciousness “will not resonate well with a jury.”

The specialized team removed Hogan, unconscious, from the van approximately 9 minutes after an ambulance first arrived, according to a timeline in the OCLEM report citing jail surveillance video.

The jail had no policies on transporting mentally ill people when Hogan was injured, according to the county counsel. But that policy changed as a result of Hogan’s case, directing that people with mental illness only be transported in a sedan or ambulance.

“They had absolutely no policy,” Canny said. “They had no training.”

The OCLEM report echoes suspicions first advanced by county supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee last month about politics potentially influencing an internal investigation in the case.

The jail’s watch commander at the time, then-Lt. Amy Le, who was present at the scene of Hogan’s injury, according to Canny and others familiar with the case, was promoted three months after Hogan was injured. She was also the head of the correctional officers union, which had endorsed Smith in a contentious re-election bid that the sheriff won in November 2018.

“These facts, taken together with the unexplained closure of the Internal Affairs investigation, certainly raise the question of whether the officer’s position in the union and its support for the Sheriff’s political campaign played a role in the decision to deactivate the Internal Affairs investigation,” the report says.

Le resigned facing discipline for misconduct unrelated to the Hogan case in 2019. She’s suing the county for wrongful termination alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

The oversight agency was granted subpoena power late last year under a new state law, and the office says it will now use that power to probe what happened to shut down the internal investigation.

“Once an Internal Affairs investigation is initiated, it should be the extraordinary circumstance that would cause it to be closed without a finding,” the OCLEM report says. “The interruption of the fact collection process means that leadership remains in the dark about precisely what happened.”

The county and oversight office plan to release more information about the case as it is prepared. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to receive the reports on Tuesday.

Copyright 2021 KQED