The county of Butte shares a horrible guilt in the death of Ari Gershman

12 Jul

Yet another tragedy in the news, a murder committed by a man who had been in the custody of Butte County law enforcement numerous times in the past. He was released just earlier this year on his own recognizance, despite previous Failure to Appear. 

John Conway, the man ID’d by Sierra County officials as the suspect in the killing of a Bay Area man, has a long history in Butte County. He’s had two charges of “Failure to Appear” on separate cases just within the last year. He was out on a warrant, charged with grand theft auto, when he allegedly committed this murder.

I guess you could blame AB 109, the legislation that mandated transfer of “non-violent” criminals from state prisons to local jails. But AB 109 also provided funding for expansion and improvements at local jails to accommodate their new incarcerates. So how come Butte County jail is still releasing prisoners due to overcrowding?

The first item I found on this subject was this report from a 2014 Butte County supervisors’ meeting:

Three shelters in Oroville were granted AB 109 funding for housing prisoners released due to overcrowding. They were paid according to how many beds they had, at a rate of $550 per bed per month. That was comparable with what people were paying for a room in a apartment in Chico at the time.

The next item I found was an article from 2015

Butte County agencies commended for AB109 response

Some excerpts:

AB109 has been blamed for a 115 percent increase in “failure to appear” charges in the county, which are charges brought on when defendants miss a court date they promised to appear on.

“A defendant’s unwillingness to return to face charges after agreeing to do so delays justice, generates another case, and results in the issuance of a bench warrant,” according to the report. “This leaves prosecutors unable to dispose of cases in a timely fashion…”

In a “timely fashion” means they waste 10’s of thousands of dollars holding hearings at which the defendant is not present, rescheduling another hearing, yadda yadda yadda. You can hear the cash register ka-chinging all day down there. Taxpayer money folks, these perps don’t pay their own attorneys, the taxpayers pay.

All because they have not fixed the jail like they’ve promised again and again.  For years now, Grand Juries have brought up deficiencies at the jail, recommending remodels and expansions to improve simple stuff like sanitation. But here Sheriff Kory Honea mentions another GJ report condemning poor conditions at the jail. This is 2015, and Honea is citing the recent GJ report in his request for $40 million to expand the jail.

Sheriff Kory Honea said the “excessive” number of failure to appear charges demonstrates a need for a “different kind of correctional facility” in Butte County.

A jail is needed that provides a “sufficient amount of space to keep those people who ultimately have demonstrated time and time again that they refuse to come to court and address these problems,” Honea said.

The Butte County Board of Supervisors in August approved Honea’s request to apply for $40 million in state funding to expand the county jail, according to a previous Enterprise-Record report. The expansion would increase the number of beds for inmates, include a medical clinic and offer space for programs like the sheriff’s alternative custody supervision.

And there it is – in 2015, Butte County Supervisors approved $40 million in state funding, with a $4 million match from the county, to expand the jail. What happened to that? Read this July 3 2020 article from the Enterprise Record.

Grand Jury report reinforces need for Butte County Jail expansion

 “Despite budget challenges, some brought on by the Camp Fire, the Butte County Grand Jury report released last week echoed the urgency for expanding the Butte County Jail beyond its current buildings.”

Oh for Pete’s sake, you’re kidding me!

“The 2019-20 Grand Jury report released June 26 examined the inner-workings of the facility, which has an inmate population that fluctuates between 570 and 590 with a maximum jail capacity of 614. Part of the facility was built in 1963, with additional wings added in 1994 and further renovations occurring in 1999.”

But nothing later than 1999? Even though, “In 2014, through Senate Bill 863, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office received $40 million in grant funding with $4 million being matched by the county. The funds allowed for plans to expand the jail north of the main facility in a separate building, as well as an evidence and morgue building.”

And here’s their excuse – read on – they’re blaming the Camp Fire!

“But when bids went out for the drafted plan, the lowest bid the county received came in at $12 million over budget. The Enterprise-Record reported in December 2019 that part of this was due to the Camp Fire as the cost of construction and supplies went up, in addition to a portion of local labor being pushed out, according to Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.”

They had the money in 2015, but they’re still taking bids in 2019? Where did the money really go? Read this 2014 report from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service

Follow the Money: how California counties are spending their public safety realignment funds (AB109)

Enforcement Cluster 1: Counties that Need More Law Enforcement Resources
Characteristics of counties in enforcement cluster 1: They have a low drug arrest rate, a
low number of law enforcement personnel, and low law enforcement expenditures.
(Coverage: 0.23; Consistency: 0.78)
Counties in this cluster do not have a high rate of drug arrests, and they have not, in
recent times, invested much in law enforcement personnel. They tend to rate below
average on number of full-time law enforcement personnel per resident and law
enforcement expenditures per resident. In other words, they have not heavily focused
economic resources on law enforcement compared to other counties. Thus, they appear
to be using AB 109 funds to strengthen these enforcement apparatuses.
The counties that best fit this characterization are Butte, El Dorado, Kings, Nevada, and
San Benito Counties. Table 3 below displays the relative rank of each of these counties
(out of 58 total counties) on their allocated budgets to Sheriff and Law Enforcement
spending units, alongside their relative ranks on drug arrests, full-time law enforcement
personnel, and change in full-time law enforcement personnel.

So Butte County, ranked No. 6 on the chart, does not fully fund law enforcement. The unfunded actuarial (pension) liability (UAL), for example, is the result of under funding.  Law enforcement has the biggest UAL. According to the report,  the AB 109 money has been going to hire law enforcement personnel, and that means, paying the UAL. 

At the same time they under fund law enforcement, the county board continues to approve “transfers” of mental patients and released prisoners to Butte County “beds” for $550 a day in transfer fees. The transfer money goes to the Butte County Behavioral Health Department. For what? Here’s a hint – the second highest compensated person in Butte County is the head of Behavioral Health, at $240,688/year salary with a $54,138 benefits package. In fact, there are 22 employees in BCBH that make more than $100,000/year in salary, and another 22 that make more than $90,000/year. So,  you can see where the transfer money goes.

And these people don’t go out on the streets to administer to clients – the police and sheriff have to engage them, counsel them, move them along. This is a huge subject of interest in Chico right now, I see people hitting posts here about the transient problem, the crime problem, and the desecration of Bidwell Park and our waterways. I see their posts on other social media. But I don’t know if people are making the funding connection. 

And now this. The County of Butte shares a horrible guilt in the death of Ari Gershman. The Sheriff’s Department has had adequate time and money to expand the jail to meet the demand. The court knew John Conway was a repeat offender with multiple charges of Failure to Appear when he was released on his own recognizance. But when Ari Gershman and his son got in their jeep and headed for a popular off-road vehicle destination, I doubt they knew any of that.  

4 Responses to “The county of Butte shares a horrible guilt in the death of Ari Gershman”

  1. Scott Rushing July 12, 2020 at 7:25 pm #

    Wow, Juanita, you are a marvel.

    Once again, you have connected the dots to expose corruption in “RiverCity,” aka Butte County; issues of taxpayer money misused, wages and benefits above market, jobs undone, and a lack of transparency.

    Consider too the question: which Butte County official was responsible for evacuation plans in the event of a fire? A disastrous fire could have been started for a number of reasons; lightning, careless campers, a tossed cigarette, for example. Fire was a known danger.


    On Sun, Jul 12, 2020 at 4:15 PM Chico Taxpayers Association wrote:

    > Juanita Sumner posted: “Yet another tragedy in the news, a murder > committed by a man who had been in the custody of Butte County law > enforcement numerous times in the past. He was released just earlier this > year on his own recognizance, despite previous Failure to Appear. Jo” >

    • Juanita Sumner July 13, 2020 at 6:02 am #

      Thanks Scott, it all seemed clear as soon as I typed John Conway into the Butte County Superior Court.

      We’ve heard complaints about the jail not being adequate, unsanitary, and just plain nasty for over 30 years. It’s outrageous to me that Kory Honea – our Golden Boy – has been sitting on $44 million for over 5 years now, complained that the jail is too small, releasing people like Conway – I don’t know how Kory Honea can call himself a cop.

      Of course the board of supervisors shares the blame, along with a couple of county administrative officers who have sat by and watched the money being spent on salaries.

      And yeah, these people have still no announced any plans for escape routes out of places like Paradise, Oroville, Concow, or any of the ridge communities that are routinely threatened with fire and flood. Drive Garland Road between Forest Ranch and Paradise sometime – they learned nothing from the Camp Fire. The road is still heavily overgrown, bushes growing out of the sides of the road – it’s a Ring of Fire.

      Thanks again for commenting Scott, I hope other people will wake up and see how the county is exacerbating our crime problem with horrible decisions.

  2. bob July 14, 2020 at 12:52 pm #

    The pensions and opeb are going to eat nearly everything but the local politicians aren’t going to acknowledge that let alone do anything about it except raise taxes and take on debt.

    • Juanita Sumner July 14, 2020 at 1:58 pm #

      I’ll tell you what irks me is the Public Safety groups who rant and rave about crime and want a 2/3’s sales tax to pay for more cops – they won’t see the real problem, too many of them are either public employees, dependents, or other hangers on.

      It’s like the old days, Gangs of New York, Tammany Hall, and Boss Tweed (Gavin Newsom)

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