A Butte Superior Court judge Wednesday overturned a $1 million bail requirement for a jailed narcotics officer and ruled that Christopher Heath could be freed on $15,000 bail for a felony firearms count.
Heath, 37, a Yuba County sheriff’s deputy who lives in Butte County, was arrested last week on a charge of possessing an illegally altered assault rifle. The weapon was recovered after local authorities raided his home following Heath’s release in York County, Pennsylvania, where he was arrested Dec. 29 on felony charges of trafficking 247 pounds of marijuana.
Heath and two alleged associates from Butte County, his brother-in-law Tyler Long, 31, and Ryan Falsone, 27, were all freed in Pennsylvania after each posted $1 million on the charges there.
Butte County authorities then sought another $1 million bail for Heath on the weapons charge. On Monday, Butte Superior Court Judge Kimberly Merrifield ruled that the $1 million bail could stand in the local case. However, Heath’s attorney, Roberto Marquez, filed an appeal, arguing that the Butte County bail was far out of bounds with the charged offense.
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In court Wednesday, Marquez argued to another Butte judge, James Reilley, that the local weapons charge against Heath was a “wobbler” that could be filed as a misdemeanor or felony. He said the count normally merited $15,000 bail under California law and that bail shouldn’t be increased because of the Pennsylvania case.
Reilly granted the motion for the bail reduction Wednesday afternoon.
“He listened to arguments for 10 minutes and all he said was, ‘Bail will be reduced to $15,000.’ That’s it,” Marquez said. He said his client would post the $15,000 and be freed Thursday evening.
Heath, who entered a not guilty plea on the firearms charge, was ordered to appear in court on the firearms charge on Jan. 27. His wife, Tatum Heath, 35, pleaded not guilty on a similar count and was previously freed in lieu of $15,000 bail.
Heath, Long and Falsone are due to appear for a preliminary hearing on the marijuana case in Pennsylvania on Feb. 11.
In serving search warrants on neighboring Heath and Long family properties in Butte County last Thursday, local authorities seized 132 pounds of marijuana at the Long residence. They arrested Long’s mother, Ramona Long, 55, on local charges of possessing marijuana for sale. She was released after posting $100,000 in bail.
Heath has been a lead investigator since 2013 for an elite Yuba-Sutter County narcotics task force. District attorneys in the two Northern California counties say they are now reviewing dozens of cases he handled for potential dismissal of charges.