San Joaquin County didn’t want him. Tehama County didn’t want him. Now Lassen County doesn’t want him either. Earlier this week, about 500 people crowded a Lassen County community center to protest the parole of convicted killer Loren Herzog into their county.
The board of this northeastern California county is asking residents to sign a petition that will be sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Secretary of Corrections Matthew Cate. Since Tuesday, more than 5,000 signatures have been collected in the county of roughly 35,000 people.
Despite the uproar, Lassen County will likely be stuck with Herzog, and residents of this rural county aren’t happy.
“We don’t want him hanging around Lassen County,” said Bob Pyle, Lassen County Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
The California Department of Corrections informed law enforcement officials that the man who helped kill a San Joaquin County woman will call a Lassen County prison home starting Friday.
Lassen County’s outgoing Sheriff, Steve Warren, was notified of the state’s decision to move Herzog on Friday. In response, the board of supervisors in that county held an open-session meeting that was moved to a Susanville community center to accommodate the crowd that gathered to protest the move.
“It’s the first time in 30 years I’ve seen that many people at a meeting, and the first time everybody was in agreement,” said Jim Chapman, Lassen County Supervisor.
Herzog, 44, convicted for his role in the 1998 murder of Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden, will be paroled to Lassen County after his victim’s family members successfully petitioned state corrections officials to move his release from San Joaquin County.
A mere 23 Sheriff’s department personnel are in charge of keeping law and order in a county the size of the state of Connecticut, Chapman said. Keeping track of one particularly high-profile parolee is impractical, and could pose a risk to the public or to Herzog himself.
“We don’t have the resources to deal with this person,” Chapman said.
While Herzog will be housed in a trailer at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville and monitored with a GPS bracelet, he will be able to travel freely during the day, according to Pyle. It was unclear whether Herzog will remain housed at the prison for the entire three years of his parole, or if he will be able to move at a later date.
But there is little the county can do to divert Herzog, who has served a 14-year sentence for taking part in three murders, according to Luis Patino, spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“There is no process in place for that type of petition to have any impact,” he said.
While parolees are generally released into the county of last legal residence, Patino said that people directly involved in the case, such as victims and the family of victims, can request “special consideration” regarding where a convict is paroled. But since Herzog has served his time and is entitled to be released from prison, a community can’t simply override the law, he said.
Representatives from San Joaquin County were happy the state decided to heed the Vanderheiden family’s request to have Herzog paroled to another county, but would rather see him kept in prison.
“I am pleased he is not coming home to our area, but I’m incensed that we haven’t found a way to keep him locked up,” said Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston.
In conjunction with Assemblymember Dan Logue, R-Linda, Galgiani has sent letters to the governor’s office and state attorney general calling for Herzog to be put back in prison or committed to a mental institution.
Lassen County is located in northeastern California along the Nevada border. The county seat of government, Susanville, is the only incorporated city in the county. Home to two state prisons and the Herlong Federal Correctional Institution, nearly a third of Lassen County’s population is comprised of inmates.
Cyndi Vanderheiden has not been seen since her disappearance, and Herzog has admitted to killing the 25-year-old woman with his childhood friend, Wesley Shermantine, who is now sitting on death row. Herzog had been sentenced to 78 years in prison on four murder convictions, but that sentence was thrown out on appeal. He plea bargained to a 14-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.
“I’m hopeful the attorney general will find that we do have recourse to challenge the Appellate Court decision,” Galgiani said.