A Yuba County deputy sheriff and narcotics task force agent — the subject of two criminal investigations — resigned from his position Friday, according to Sheriff Steve Durfor.
When announcing the resignation of Christopher "Mark" Heath, the sheriff for the first time commented on the former deputy's alleged actions.
"It's very difficult to find the words to express the outrage and sense of betrayal that those of us in law enforcement in Yuba County and the region are feeling. He betrayed, in every sense, the ethics and professionalism that we stand for," Durfor said.
Heath was arrested Dec. 29 while on vacation in York Co., Pa., along with two other Butte County residents for allegedly trafficking 247 pounds of marijuana. He was released after posting bail in Pennsylvania, and was then arrested last week in Butte County on suspicion of possession of an unlawful assault rifle.
In addition to the two criminal investigations, the California Department of Justice has launched a top-to-bottom audit of the Yuba-Sutter narcotics task force, NET-5.
"While there is no evidence to suggest that the marijuana in the Pennsylvania incident was from law enforcement seizures or evidence, we want to ensure that policies involving internal controls are being followed," Durfor said.
"There is no indication that a Yuba County sheriff's deputy or any other law enforcement officer was in criminal association with Heath. If that is revealed, that will be properly dealt with. There is no indication that is the case."
The Yuba and Sutter district attorney's offices are reviewing dozens of cases in which Heath was the lead investigator to consider if they are still prosecutable. Those who may have allegations about Heath's actions as a law enforcement officer can report their complaints to officials.
"Those matters need to be brought to the attention of the sheriff's office and to the district attorney's office," Durfor said.
Heath's arrest prompted national headlines and contributes to general feelings of distrust of law enforcement in Yuba-Sutter, which Durfor said he understands, but hopes to repair.
"I can understand the public being upset. In all sincerity, I completely understand the public's anger and suspicions. There is no one that is more angry and incensed by what we have learned about his activities than those of us at the Yuba County Sheriff's Office and in law enforcement," Durfor said.
"It's a never-ending work in progress to establish the public's trust. There is a sentiment of distrust and resentment toward law enforcement more than I've seen in my career. I'm certain that Heath's actions contribute to that and tarnishes public perception."
Upon his arrest, Heath was immediately placed on paid administrative leave.
Durfor said he was frustrated with that situation, too, but his hands were tied in this case and in previous cases when deputies have been placed on administrative leave following criminal charges.
"There are times and circumstances where I have shared the feeling that I don't want to pay them, but I am bound by law to pay them. We have no authority to not pay him," Durfor said.
Heath was hired as a correctional officer in November 2003, was promoted to deputy sheriff in January 2007 and has been assigned to NET-5 for three years.
Durfor said there was never any indication Heath was engaged in illegal or unethical behavior prior to arrest, and if he had known "we would have been investigating to the fullest extent."
CONTACT reporter Monica Vaughan at 749-4783 and on Twitter @MonicaLVaughan.