By Danny Domingo
I’ve spent the past hour reading blogs about the shortcomings of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith. In my minimal experience with only one Santa Clara County Sheriff’s investigation I would have to agree that the criticism is warranted.
My name is Danny Domingo and I am a retired police veteran of an east bay Police Department. I have also volunteered with the KlaasKids Organization since 2000. Currently I am embedded with the search for Sierra Lamar and have volunteered my time in this worthwhile effort for the past two years. The Sierra Lamar search is the fourth high profile search in which I have been involved since meeting Marc Klaas in 1999. The Sierra Lamar search is also the ONLY ONE of the four searches in which I’ve been involved where the local law enforcement jurisdiction has refused to assist the civilian search effort. Instead, Sheriff Smith and her media representatives have stated multiple times, in one way or another that they wish they could discuss the case with the civilian search leaders but they CAN’T. Allow me to make this point very clear. The leaders of the search for Sierra Lamar have never asked Sheriff Smith or her representatives to discuss the case with us. What we have asked for is assistance in identifying viable search areas.
In the first days, weeks and months of the search effort we asked Sheriff Smith and her Search and Rescue leaders to share the areas where they’ve searched so that the civilian team could leap frog those areas thereby searching a larger area in a shorter period of time. The requests led to empty promises of assistance from the Sheriff. Finally, in October 2013, nineteen months after Sierra Lamar disappeared; civilian search leaders finally received a map outlining search areas covered by county Search & Rescue teams. Nineteen months during which body decomposition, animal destruction and weather conditions have taken its toll on any evidence which might have been recovered.
In my personal estimation, Sheriff Smith has hampered the search effort for Sierra Lamar. A couple of examples if I may; 1) for several months in the beginning of the search Sheriff Smith refused to disclose that all of the clothing connected with Sierra Lamar had been recovered. Hence, civilian search teams spent countless hours searching for, logging and documenting an exorbitant amount of female clothing found during searches. All of this documentation was then turned over to the Sheriff’s Office. Hundreds of hours could have been saved by a simple statement by the Sheriff’s Office saying, “We are not looking for any outstanding clothing.” Yet, Sheriff Smith forced her investigators to remain mum about any information at all. 2) The civilian search leaders have asked the Sheriff Investigators to assist the civilian search effort by suggesting areas in which the suspect and his friends might have frequented so that searches could be conducted in those areas. These requests have been met with no response by the Sheriff or her investigators. 3) There are rumors of the existence of a video surveillance photograph taken of the suspect showing his clothing in a particular state of disarray taken on the date of Sierra’s disappearance and the existence of medical records indicating the suspect was treated for a particular condition days after the disappearance of Sierra Lamar. A simple confirmation or denial of these two rumors could do a lot to steer this search in a particular direction. Once again, the requests were met with no response. Having been an investigator for 16 of the 25 years I served in law enforcement, I fail to see how assistance in any of the above would jeopardize this case.
I have been researching missing person cases since the disappearance of my own niece, Xiana Fairchild in December 1999. I have documented numerous cases in which missing persons have been located by civilian search teams. In that same research I’ve yet to find a single case in which prosecution was compromised by the acts of a civilian search team member. Conversely, I have a long list of cases in which SAR team members missed a body only to have the body discovered by a civilian or a civilian search team member at a later date. The most recent example of this is the case of Michelle Le who was discovered by a KlaasKids search team in an area that had been searched by SAR teams up to three previous times.
The case against Antolin Garcia has all the appearances of being a very difficult case to win. It is not a secret that juries find it difficult to convict the defendant in a capital case in which there is no body. Is there any question in anyone’s mind that the best chances of finding a body now rests with the civilian search team? Why then does Sheriff Smith and her investigators, to this very day, still refuse to assist the civilian search effort.
If Sheriff Smith or her investigators had a loved one missing they would want as many boots on the ground as possible as quickly as possible. Perhaps the rules are different when the missing is not one of their own.
I don’t even live in Santa Clara County but I will be making a donation to the campaign of anybody running against Sheriff Laurie Smith. It is time for a change in philosophy.