Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2016
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2016 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Monica Vaughan
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


D.A.'S Offices Dealing With Fallout

About a dozen felony marijuana-related criminal cases have been 
thrown out or reduced to misdemeanors - the fallout of the December 
arrest of a Yuba-Sutter drug task force agent.

Christopher "Mark" Heath's career as a Yuba County sheriff's deputy 
came to an abrupt end when he resigned from his position of 12 years 
soon after he was arrested in Pennsylvania on suspicion of 
trafficking more than 200 pounds of marijuana. The effects of his 
arrest sent ripples through the Yuba-Sutter criminal justice system, 
some of which have yet to be worked out.

Assigned as a NET-5 (gang and drug task force) agent for two years, 
Heath, 37, authored search warrants, performed undercover buys and 
made arrests, sometimes for the same criminal conduct he is now 
accused of in federal court. Sometimes, he was the lead investigator.

His arrest and subsequent indictment led Yuba and Sutter county 
district attorneys to re-evaluate cases filed as a result of 
investigations worked by Heath. Neither district attorney said there 
is any indication Heath lied during investigations. Rather, his 
arrest raises doubt as to his credibility as a witness.

In Sutter County, three of 16 cases were dismissed, according to 
District Attorney Amanda Hopper. Her office automatically dismissed 
any cases in which Heath was the lead investigator.

"This was done not because we believe the defendants were innocent, 
but because we had a law enforcement officer who established that he 
had integrity and honesty and credibility issues," Hopper said.

"Ethically, we are not prepared to rely on the testimony of an 
officer whose truthfulness is questionable."

The remaining cases, Hopper said, were examined to determine Heath's 

If he was at the scene but other officers conducted the 
investigations, for example, her office did not dismiss the case, as 
Heath was not pertinent to the facts.

That's how the Yuba County District Attorney's Office considered its 
48 cases that involved Heath. In that county, four cases were 
dismissed, three cases are yet to be resolved, and an additional six 
cases resulted in misdemeanor convictions and multiple counts 
dismissed, according to District Attorney Patrick McGrath.

Last year, for example, Heath wrote a declaration for probable cause 
for the arrest of two people after a search of a home uncovered five 
pounds of processed marijuana, a butane honey (hash) oil lab, 
firearms and ammunition in a house with four children. Multiple 
felonies were filed on each suspect. Court records show that after 
Heath's arrest, one of the suspects received an offer to close the 
case with one misdemeanor and a single year of probation. The other 
settled for one felony and two years of probation.

McGrath's office approached cases as if Heath was not available as a witness.

"There are cases where Heath plays a part in the investigation, and 
we believe we can fill in that information with other sources," McGrath said.

If Heath were called as a witness, "As soon as a defense attorney 
will try to impeach him, he has a right to stop testifying under the 
Fifth Amendment. At that point, any evidence he might have given 
already is stricken," he said.

Some cases that Heath investigated were already closed and the 
suspect convicted before Heath's arrest.

If those cases were in Sutter County, defense attorneys received a 
letter from Hopper's office informing them of Heath's credibility 
issues. McGrath's office did not send letters to defense attorneys in 
closed cases.
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