Don Morrissey—a twice-demoted Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy and political operative who recently resigned as union president for his role in a texting scandal—will give up his badge this weekend. According to an internal Sheriff’s Office memorandum, Morrissey’s 19-year tenure at the agency ends on Saturday.
As head of the county’s Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (DSA) from 2013 to July this year, Morrissey positioned himself one of Sheriff Laurie Smith’s most vocal critics, supporting her opponents in the past two elections—retired Capt. Kevin Jensen in 2014 and retired Undersheriff John Hirokawa this year—and calling attention to the dysfunction and brutality that happened under her watch.
But Morrissey undermined his role as watchdog by failing to come clean about his own complicity in a toxic culture at the agency.
For the past few years until this summer, Morrissey minimized his participation in group messages in which other officers exchanged bigoted texts and he personally authored some with transphobic, misogynist slurs and others making light of sexual assault in jail.
The union leader’s career—already marred by a 2012 demotion for allegedly viewing porn and posting personal sex ads at work—has been in free-fall since he made details of his personnel record public in June by suing to appeal his latest demotion.
Morrissey went from being a “rising star,” to quote his attorney’s characterization in a retaliation claim against Sheriff Smith, to a liability for the county, his union, his preferred candidate for sheriff—and for his profession.
The Peace Officers Research Association of California—PORAC, the largest law enforcement organization in the state, which has been fighting legislation to make police personnel records more transparent—pressured him to step down from the executive board after San Jose Inside exposed the extent of his involvement in the texting scandal. A vocal minority of DSA members revolted, which, in part, led to him stepping down as president after five years at the helm.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Richard Glennon declined to comment on the resignation because it’s a personnel issue. Hirokawa—who defended Morrissey from his first demotion until his arbitration ruling was made public in June, when he finally said he should resign as DSA president—has yet to respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear why Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O’Neal and the Sheriff’s Office haven’t systematically re-examined Morrissey’s 84 arrest cases since 2000—or those of any officer who lost his job as a result of the texting investigation. When a similar case involving 14 officers arose in San Francisco County, prosecutors assigned an independent panel of judges to audit 3,000 arrests handled by those cops.
O’Neal did not directly respond to a query about whether her office plans to review the Morrissey cases when asked in July and again this week. But an assistant public defender followed up via email this morning by asking for the case numbers, which San Jose Inside promptly provided. After a quick review, it was determined that the Public Defender’s Office appeared on 14 of the cases, which will now be evaluated.
Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen, for his part, affirmed that he will review “relevant cases referred to our office to make sure they were handled legally and appropriately.”
“The texts are abhorrent,” Rosen said through a spokesman. “No one who is a racist should wear a badge in Santa Clara County.”